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Photos found at slide site; missing number drops

APTOPIX Washington Mudslide

DARRINGTON, Wash. (AP) -- Hundreds of family photographs and albums are among the personal belongings being recovered by crews searching for victims at a massive debris site left by the deadly mudslide in Washington state.

More than a week after the slide destroyed a mountainside community north of Seattle, crews using heavy machinery and their bare hands continued their work. Late Saturday, authorities said the number of people believed missing decreased substantially, from 90 to 30.

Officials previously said they expected that figure to go down as they worked to find people safe and cross-referenced a "fluid" list that likely included partial reports and duplicates.

As the number of people unaccounted for went down, the fatality list went up.

The official death toll of victims identified by the medical examiner on Saturday increased by one, to 18, said Jason Biermann, program manager at the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management.

Authorities have said they have recovered more than two dozen bodies - including one on Saturday - but they aren't added to the official tally until a formal identification is made.

And, 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.

"Rescuers are not always making full recoveries," he said. "Often, they are making partial recoveries."

Personal items, both large and small, are also discovered in wreckage.

"What we found out here is everything from pictures to gun safes," said Snohomish County Fire District 1 battalion chief Steve Mason.

The items that would later be cleaned, sorted and hopefully returned to families.

All work on the debris field halted briefly Saturday for a moment of silence to honor those lost. Gov. Jay Inslee had asked people across Washington to pause at 10:37 a.m., the time the huge slide struck on March 22.

"People all over stopped work - all searchers - in honor of that moment," Mason said.

An American flag had been run up a tree and then down to half-staff at the debris site, he said.

Dan Rankin, mayor of the nearby logging town of Darrington, said the community had been "changed forevermore."

"It's going to take a long time to heal, and the likelihood is we will probably never be whole," he said.

Among the dozens of missing are Adam Farnes and his mother, Julie.

"He was a giant man with a giant laugh," Kellie Howe said of Farnes. Howe became friends with him when he moved to the area from Alaska. She said Adam Farnes was the kind of guy who would come into your house and help you do the dishes.

Adam Farnes also played the banjo, drums and bass guitar, she said, and had worked as a telephone lineman and a 911 dispatcher.

"He loved his music loud," she said.

Finding and identifying all the victims could stretch on for a long time, and authorities have warned that not everyone may ultimately be accounted for.

Rescuers have given a cursory look at the entire debris field 55 miles northeast of Seattle, said Steve Harris, division supervisor for the eastern incident management team. They are now sifting through the rest of the fragments, looking for places where dogs should give extra attention. Only "a very small percentage" has received the more thorough examination, he said.

Commanders are making sure people have the right gear to stay safe in the rain and potentially hazardous materials, and they're keeping a close eye on the level of the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River to be sure nobody is trapped by rising water.

At the debris site Saturday, Mason, the battalion chief, said teams first do a hasty search of any wreckage of homes they find. If nothing is immediately discovered, they do a more detailed forensic search.

"We go all the way to the dirt," he said.

The huge wall of earth that crashed into the collection of homes followed weeks of heavy rain.

A week later, only local volunteers are being allowed to help rescuers.

Joe Wright from Darrington set up his tool-sharpening operation near the firehouse. He's been busy. In a little more than a day, he estimated he had sharpened more than 150 chain-saw chains dulled by rocks and dirt.

"There were people using their own saws," Wright said. "They're just trying to get down there to get the job done."

---

Baumann reported from Seattle. Associated Press photographer Elaine Thompson in Oso, writer Phuong Le in Seattle and researchers Judith Ausuebel, Jennifer Farrar and Susan James contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

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JOY MARIE March 30 2014 at 3:25 PM

THIS WAS AVOIDABLE AND ONLY CREED SOLD THOSE LOTS, SOME ONE NEEDS PRISON TIME AND HUGE FINES GOING TO THE FAMILIES TO HELP LIGHTEN THE PAIN EVEN A LITTLE, SAY $20 MILLION FOR EACH LIFE LOST
SADDENS AND TOUCHED SO MANY OF US YOU'LL NEVER MEET, PRAYERS SAID FOR ALL OF YOU

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Penny March 30 2014 at 2:05 PM

I don't ever seem to have the correct words for when these kinds of things happen in the world. So many families losing their loved ones. So many natural disasters happening to all parts of the world these days. I have to wonder what is really happening? Is there something more powerful than any of us can comprehend happening? and why? Is this a message from God? How can we perceive all of these natural disasters as merely weather changing events? I don't have these answers and all I can do is what others are doing and that is offering my thoughts and prayers and hoping in some way they get through this horrible disaster and can move on with their lives. God Bless You All.

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whdlsn March 30 2014 at 8:13 AM

I've been through Oso and it is like other small communities in Washington State, everyone knows everyone else. That means no one is un-touched and even the suvivors' lives will be changed forever. After the news crews and others go home, these folks will be left with their grief and a mountain of bills to pay. Very sad.

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rlmcanoe March 30 2014 at 11:32 AM

prayers and thoughts are with everyone involved in this horrible incident, from those that lost their lives to the ones that escaped, to the volunteers that are helping, everyone involved got affected and theirs lives will never be the same. so sad

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Dave March 30 2014 at 10:15 AM

Can't believe something like that could happen. Feel so sorry to the poor people that have to go through trying toi find love ones.

Dave

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rudylb10 March 30 2014 at 7:27 AM

God bless the ones digging through that awful mess. I pray for their fortitude and hope that what they see does not haunt them for the rest of their days. So sad.

Flag Reply +22 rate up
Donna Jones March 30 2014 at 9:26 AM

God Bless any personnel or volunteers involved in this tragedy. We are praying for everyone, GodSpeed to those lost.

Flag Reply +11 rate up
stephen284 March 30 2014 at 8:24 AM

"Rescuers have given a cursory look at the entire debris field 55 miles northeast of Seattle, said Steve Harris, division supervisor for the eastern incident management team."

While Flight 370 has more people than are warranted at this point! Is there some reason the US has sent some pretty hefty assets to another part of the world while here at home we have a defined debris field and know where the poor unfortunate victims are?

Notice how this is left to "The local" fire departments and rescue personnel?

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3 replies
Kate March 30 2014 at 7:35 AM

Gosh, how I wish the families and search teams all the best. It is gruesome work for the latter, as they know they are not going to find anyone alive after all this time.

I don't pray because I am not religious, but all my condolences and strongest hopes go out to these families and the responders, who have such a heavy task.

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PappyHappy March 30 2014 at 12:51 PM

Not to sound rude, but take it that Obama has not had time to serve as 'Comforter In Chief'. One of the greatest disasters thus far this year, and apparently not a PEEP from Obama.

Guess he might get around to it on a cash raising swing the next time he is on the west coast.

It has only been OVER A WEEK!

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3 replies
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