Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Washington mudslide death toll rises to 21

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DARRINGTON, Wash. -- Authorities say the number of people who have been confirmed dead from a U.S. mudslide has increased to 21, from 18.

Jason Biermann of Snohomish County Emergency Management said Sunday 15 victims have been identified by the county medical examiner. Six have yet to be identified.

He says another four bodies were found in the debris field Sunday.

About 30 people remain missing after the massive mudslide in a mountainside community in Washington state on March 22.

Late Saturday, authorities said the number of people believed missing decreased substantially, from 90 to 30.

Rescue crews said Sunday many of the dogs that have been essential in the search for victims will take a two-day break. Days of sniffing through cold, soupy mud and nearly non-stop rain have taken their toll on the animals, and officials say dogs can lose their sensing ability if they work too long.

Dogs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, more recent arrivals on the scene, will continue working, said Heidi Amrine, another spokeswoman for the operation.

Engineers were watching for any material sloughing off the landslide area, making sure a weekend of torrential rainfall doesn't displace more land.

Meanwhile, many residents attended church services for solace ahead of another week of recovery efforts.

Underscoring the difficulty of identifying those killed in one of the deadliest landslides in U.S. history, Biermann said crews are not always discovering complete remains.

Searchers have had to contend with treacherous conditions.

The search area has septic tanks, gasoline, propane tanks and other hazards. When rescuers and search dogs leave, they're hosed off by hazardous-materials crews.

Rescuers should get some relief soon. Mainly dry weather is forecast today through Wednesday.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 31, 2014 ??65530

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