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Churches to honor victims as Washington state mudslide death toll climbs

Wash. Mudslide's Missing Count Drops Substantially

(Reuters) - Churches planned services on Sunday to offer prayers for the victims of last week's devastating mudslide in Washington state as the death toll from the disaster kept rising but the number of missing fell sharply.

The presumed body count rose to 28 on Saturday from the March 22 catastrophe northeast of Seattle, with the official tally of those killed now 18 based on bodies extricated and identified by medical examiners.

But despite the grim toll, news also came that the number of missing fell to 30 from 90 as officials were able to account for dozens of people as "safe and well."

Rescue and recovery workers pushed through wind and rain on Saturday to comb through debris a week after a rain-soaked hillside above the north fork of the Stillaguamish River gave way without warning and sent a wall of mud cascading over dozens of homes near the rural Washington town of Oso.

Churches will lead prayers on Sunday for victims and their families as well as rescue workers who have been searching through a debris field that covers a square mile (2.6 square km).

Gordy Beil, a 63-year-old photographer and painter in Darrington, about 10 miles from Oso, said he anticipated a painful service at the Episcopal church he plans to attend on Sunday morning.

"It will be good for people to go and get what they need to get out of it," he said.

Don Little, 66, a Redmond, Washington, resident in town to visit his son, said he would attend the Church of God of Prophecy in Darrington, where one of the congregants has a husband among the missing and is having a hard time grasping that he is gone.

Those at the service will be praying both for the miracle of his safety and for the woman's coming to accept her loss with a measure of peace, Little said.

"She's still hoping beyond hope that they find him alive, and everybody's wishing for that," he said. "Sometimes we don't get what we really want but we've got to learn to accept things."


Funeral preparations are also beginning for those lost in the tragedy.

At the Weller Funeral Home in the town of Arlington, only a few miles from the site of the mudslide, staff members who typically plan two to three funerals weekly are preparing for 12 this week.

"Some people who have come here, they've only found one family member, and they're now searching for the fourth or fifth or sixth member of the family," said Diane Wilson-simon, who helps families plan services at the funeral home.

No one has been pulled alive from the rubble since the day the landslide hit, when at least eight people were injured but survived. Rescuers have found no signs of life since then.

Ron Brown, a Snohomish County official involved in search-and-rescue operations, said the debris field may end up being the final resting place for some victims, who may be buried so thoroughly they cannot be found.

"That's going to be hallowed ground out there," he said.

In addition to prayers, many are offering donations of money, food, clothing and other items.

At the Weller Funeral Home, Wilson-simon said she had been overwhelmed by the generosity of people who had donated to help pay for victims' funerals.

"It's just overwhelming to see so much loss of life, but heartwarming to see so much outpouring of community support," she said."

(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in Darrington, Wash., and Bryan Cohen in Arlington, Washington; Writing by Carey Gillam; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Joe March 30 2014 at 6:39 PM

As a lifelong Washington resident who has traveled through this area many times (over 300), my sense of this rural area is that it is the quiet country lifestyle that attracts people there. Some live there all year and others own property there as a summer home to get away from the big cities. The surrounding hills and mountains offer hunting, fishing and a lot of other outdoor recreation activities. Since the year 'round neighbors would know which houses among them were seasonal and since they too were victims of the mudslide, it's extremely difficult now to determine who was there when the slide occurred. In springtime, people often check their vacation homes and make repairs to be ready for the coming summer. They had to estimate that all property owners were there and then wait to hear back from those who were not. The numbers weren't inflated to take advantage of government resources. The regular residents in this area would prefer that the government stay away, but have come to realize that they do need some outside help. These people are normally quite self-sufficient and ask nothing from the government, except that their privacy be respected. They have my sympathy for their loss and the disruption of their tranquility.

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hoppinhogz March 30 2014 at 9:50 PM

God watch over you and comfort you all.

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Shirley March 30 2014 at 1:40 PM

Thank God my cousin wasn't in this. This is terrible. My heart goes out to all of them. It would be terrible to never know what happended to your loved ones.

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sulandherb March 30 2014 at 6:31 PM

What an awful way to die, swallowed up by mud.

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ae12wrangell March 30 2014 at 5:01 PM

We know the death toll will rise. Some may never be found, unless Oso is willing to coninuously dig, and dig and dig. But we've gone throught that before.

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Vicki Marquardt March 30 2014 at 1:38 PM

This is such a devastating tragedy. I hope they can recover the bodies of those lost, so their loved ones can give a proper final goodbye. May God be with the families and friends of those lost.

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1 reply
Karen Vicki Marquardt March 30 2014 at 6:21 PM

They would been better off if "god" had been with them BEFORE it happened, ya think?

What kind of NASTY way is THAT to treat those were killed, when being while alive would have been sooooo much better?

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debraon407 March 30 2014 at 1:09 PM

Please lord be with the families and loved ones.

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1 reply
wclark3350 debraon407 March 30 2014 at 4:20 PM

Where was the "lord" when this tragedy happened? Busy picking the winners in March Madness?

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2 replies
mgnficntoz wclark3350 March 30 2014 at 5:21 PM

Leave it to your local atheist to use the situation to grind their axe.

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Karen wclark3350 March 30 2014 at 6:14 PM

Hey mgnficntoz; wclark has a point.

Always with the "prayers, bless and god" stuff; yet the point remains the same. If there WERE such an "omnipotent being" who just loves us to DEATH, why did this happen in the first place?

And for that matter; the "god" everybody tries to "bless" you with is an ALIEN, as in "not of this planet" so PLEASE, enough with the "prayers and god bless".

It's nothing but an oxymoron and ridiculous to say that to someone grieving. It might make YOU feel "special" saying it, but; it's worthless to the ones hurting.

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Sarah March 30 2014 at 1:37 PM

Prayers to the families and friends of those lost.

Why is it that reporters, whose job used to be merely reporting the news, feel the need to seek drama? Whether it's a storm, a car accident, a river overflowing or somebody belching, they always add, for example, "this was the biggest belch since crazy Joe Fritz's famous belch of 1849". Or "this was the worst auto pile-up since the auto pile-up of '69". WHO CARES? This was a terrible disaster...why the need to add dramatic license by bringing up the eruption of Mt. St. Helens? Trust me, reporter, we Washingtonians (and people throughout the nation) already feel the sadness and despair over the loss of life and property...we don't need YOU to try to hype it with a non-sensical, unrelated comparison!

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3 replies
quincy_maxwell March 30 2014 at 1:59 PM

When this story first broke, it was barely a story at all on any network or webpage. How sad. I think about CNN's coverage of that ill-fated flight. 24 hours of breaking every 30 seconds with new speculations and ideas about that flight. It took them nearly 7 days to start reporting on this tragedy in our own back yard. We have facts about this ....yet still nothing about that flight. Sensationalism in today's news is not news. And certainly breaking news is now ignored because it is not breaking news. What if it were truly breaking news? Would any one pay attention?

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8 replies
Viper1ex19 March 30 2014 at 1:44 PM

Research has shown this could/would happen and has happened before on the same location.
Local/State officials covered it up.

This could have been prevented but Politics got in the way... like a lot of other serious issues this nation faces.

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2 replies
vchuckufarley Viper1ex19 March 30 2014 at 2:28 PM

Studies go back all the way back to the 1950's, advising that this was an unsafe area to live due to former landslides. I would suspect land developers as the guilty culprits along with the possibility of paid off local officials who allowed this to happen.

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2 replies
risley vchuckufarley March 30 2014 at 4:10 PM

If you move everyone in Washington State out of a dangerous landslide area you would be moving thousands of people. Not to mention we sit on a large fault line, we have an active volcano, but we choice to live here. And yes I ask myself why since I came here from New Jersey. Maybe it goes back to the old, we never think it is going to happen to us, until it does.

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tropicluv vchuckufarley March 30 2014 at 4:38 PM

I agree and this is so true. But look at how many people live in areas that flood over and over and over. They continue to do so and rebuild. Areas on coastlines where there is high surge from hurricanes do the same. It's their home and they refuse to leave. It's a shame.

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lacracker Viper1ex19 March 30 2014 at 5:04 PM

Not sure it could have been "prevented" a lot of houses were at the bottom of the hill and actually across the river. I guess roads shouldn't be built near hills either. I wonder if the insurance companies might want to make the "prevention" argument to get out of getting stuck with the bill for the destroyed houses...or the big banks...or whoever. Was it an Act of God, or preventable?

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1 reply
fransco999 lacracker March 30 2014 at 7:27 PM

Some of the "before" pictures show areas that look like they were clear cut. Could that have been part of the reason for the mudslide?

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