On the ninth day after the mudslide in Oso, Wash., devastated a community, the confirmed death toll has risen to 24.
Six of the recovered bodies have not yet been identified, but officials have identified the 22 people who remain missing and unaccounted for. They are hoping some of the 22 will come forward alive, but say six of the bodies could belong to people on the list.
Rescue and recovery efforts have been hard going. Some of the search dogs are being given a two-day break to recover. The Washington Department of Transportation says overworking dogs can heavily impair their sensing and search abilities.
Crews report that cold weather, rain and the sheer scope of the affected area are making their jobs extremely difficult. Forecasts show the weather may dry up this week.
Officials report they’ve cleared only a fraction of the 300-acre debris field. Satellite scans suggest the mud ranges from 15 feet to 75 feet deep in the area hit by the mudslide. The area is dangerous for crews, they can easily get stuck in debris or fall into pockets of loose mud and water.
The debris also has a significant amount of chemicals strewn through it, everything from typical household and garage chemicals to propane and even toxic sludge. Responders are also at risk for contracting tetanus and dysentery.
The local community is feeling a more emotional fatigue in the shadow of the mudslide. On Saturday, a week after the slide, residents from Oso and the surrounding communities bowed their heads for 20 seconds of silence to remember victims. Local churches have been flooded with community members seeking strength from their neighbors.
Many local stores are gathering donations for those affected and some locals have been directly assisting with the search and recovery efforts. Businesses and individuals have volunteered trucks and materials and to help with the response, but with a long ordeal ahead some are hoping that federal aid will help compensate them.
Gov. Jay Inslee requested the federal government to declare a major disaster in Oso to make a number of programs and services available to those affected. The declaration would also provide funding to offset response costs. He asked specifically for disaster housing for displaced persons, disaster grants to helps victims recover, unemployment insurance and counseling programs.
President Barack Obama declared the landslide a federal emergency last week, which provides local and state governments with federal resources and teams to better respond to extraordinary situations.