Heavy machinery sifts through the mud and debris from a massive mudslide that struck Oso near Darrington, Washington. Credit: Reuters
Survivors of a mudslide that left dozens dead or missing in Washington state said they would like to turn the disaster site into a shrine for the victims once bulldozers clear away the mud and debris.
Rescue teams pressed on for an 11th day on Tuesday in their efforts to find more victims of the slide, triggered when a rain-soaked hillside collapsed above the north fork of the Stillaguamish River, northeast of Seattle.
The torrent of mud roared over the riverbanks and across state Highway 530, flattening more than two dozen homes on the outskirts of the town of Oso in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.
The official death toll rose to 27, up from 24 a day earlier, with another 22 people still listed as missing. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office said 19 of the confirmed fatalities have now been identified, including a 4-month-old girl and two children aged 5 and 6.
Ruth Hargrave, 67, whose neighbors are among the dead and missing, said she could not imagine rebuilding the beloved riverside vacation house that was in the path of the slide.
"Oh my God, no!" she said. "And not because of the fear of more slides. But all of that death and destruction."
Hargrave said the stricken community, a half square mile of which lies under a mound of mud up to 80 feet deep, should be treated as "hallowed ground."
Her view is shared by many who live in the surrounding area.
Jan Kittelson, 59, a truck driver from Darrington, 10 miles to the east, said he would like to see the site turned into a shrine.
"There ought to be a marker put up there honoring the people who died," he said. "The river will cut its way through there the way it always has."
TOO SOON TO MAKE PLANS
Gary Young, a retired U.S. serviceman from Darrington, said future use of the property should be left up to those who own the land.
"It goes back to the people that was living there, that's what I think," he said. "If they want to put shrines up or whatever, that's cool. But it's their property."
Jaime Smith, spokeswoman for Washington state Governor Jay Inslee, said it was too soon to make plans.
"We're still in digging-in-the-mud mode," she said. "That conversation will happen. It will involve a lot of input from the residents."
No signs of life have been detected since the day of the slide, March 22, when eight people were injured.
Authorities say that accounting for the number of dead has been complicated by the fact that the bodies are not always found intact. Officials acknowledge that some victims might be forever entombed under the massive pile of mud and rubble.
Still, search teams assisted by dogs have made steady progress in retrieving remains, making four to six discoveries daily on the eastern half of the site alone, recovery team supervisor Steve Harris told reporters on Monday.
Scores of recovery workers picked through the mud on Tuesday, the second sunny day providing a respite from last week's heavy rains that slowed the search while raising the risk of more slides and flooding.
The break in the weather meant less logistical work, such as pumping out water, and more searching, said Lieutenant Richard Burke of the Bellevue Fire Department, on on-site spokesman.
But about a third of the site remained under 60 to 80 feet of mud, twisted tree trunks and wreckage, making it too unstable for rescue teams to enter, he told reporters.
The greatest challenge workers now face is in areas with standing water, the county said. Search dogs have indicated the presence of human remains in some spots from which water was being pumped out.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission also issued an advisory on Tuesday warning of charity scams that often emerge after large-scale natural disasters.