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Washington landslide's official death toll rises to 21; 30 missing

March 30, 2014|By Matt Pearce
  • A worker navigates the muck left behind by a landslide in Snohomish County, Wash.
A worker navigates the muck left behind by a landslide in Snohomish County,… (Ted S. Warren / Associated…)

The confirmed death toll from last weekend's landslide in northwestern Washington state has risen to 21, and the remains of an additional four victims may have been found in the debris Sunday, officials said.

The number of missing in Snohomish County remained at 30, officials said at an evening news briefing.

Of the 21 confirmed dead, 15 bodies have been identified, and the remaining six are awaiting identification, according to Jason Biermann, program manager at the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management.

GRAPHIC: Who they were -- Washington landslide deaths

As the area's second-rainiest March on record wraps up, recent drier weather has made it easier on the hundreds of rescuers who have at times gone up to their elbows in dangerous, contaminated muck to search for landslide victims.

Heavy machinery is now a common sight on "the pile," and when rescuers recover personal items, they tuck them into plastic bags to be taken away for decontamination.

As other officials have done all week, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee continued to hold on to hope, against all odds, that a human survivor could yet be found. That hasn't happened since the day of the slide in Oso, about an hour north of Seattle.

“Look, we are hoping for a miracle,” Inslee said during an appearance on CBS News’ "Face The Nation." "And more importantly, we are working for a miracle. And we're doing everything humanly possible if that opportunity exists.”

Inslee said that the rescue effort was “fully resourced” but that locals and officials faced a “monumental” task to restore Oso and State Route 530, a crucial rural artery cut off by the slide.

Addressing a 1999 report that warned of the potential for catastrophic failure on the hill that collapsed March 22, Inslee said officials would “get to the bottom” of whether the disaster was foreseeable.

“It's going to take a lot of work, months of geological research,” Inslee said. “But right now … we are focused like a laser beam on rescuing anyone who could be subject to a miracle. And also taking care of these families.”

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