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Active search ends for bodies in Washington slide

Washington Mudslide Death Toll at 41

EVERETT, Wash. (AP) - For more than five weeks, crews painstakingly sifted through mud and debris, at first searching for survivors and then for the remains of those buried by the mudslide in Washington state. On Monday, officials called off the active search, though two bodies remain entombed in the tangled pile.

At times, people dug with their bare hands, recovering 41 victims, but Steve Hadaway and Kris Regelbrugge have not been found after a hillside collapsed March 22 and swept across the small community in Oso about an hour northeast of Seattle.

"This has been a difficult decision" because the families of the two still missing seek closure, Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary said at a news conference Monday.

Frank Hadaway, whose brother Steve died in the slide, said he understood the county's decision.

"The amazing thing is that of 43 people who were lost, 41 were found," he told The Seattle Times. "So, do I have an issue? No. Reality is reality. We knew this day was coming sooner or later."

Trenary said officials have not given up on finding Steve Hadaway and Regelbrugge. He said about 30 people would continue a scaled-back search of a smaller area if weather and other conditions allow. At its peak, the efforts involved about 1,000 volunteers.

An active search could resume if conditions change, allowing crews into areas that were previously inaccessible, officials said.

"To think about someone being left behind, that's unbearable to me," said Tim Ward, who was injured in the slide and whose wife, Brandy, died.

"The thought of Kris still being out there on that property is so solemn to me. She put her soul into that land," he said.

The task now switches to clearing debris from the 1-square-mile slide that wiped out a small riverside community, blocked a state highway and partially dammed the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River.

Snohomish County Executive John Lovick said Monday that the county and state have formed a joint commission to independently review what happened before and after the slide, including what the county knew about the landslide dangers in the area.

"There will be a lot of questions, and we hope to have a lot of answers," he said. Lovick also said he has heard talk about turning the slide area into a memorial site, but they need to talk to family members first.

The search for people has involved heavy equipment, helicopters and hundreds of people and dogs.

Volunteers spent thousands of hours helping in the search or collecting donations for the community. Millions in private donations have been raised, and millions more in federal aid has been promised.

Soon after the slide barreled down the 600-foot bluff at about 60 miles per hour on a Saturday morning, rescuers saved 11 people, including a 4-year-old boy and a young mother and her infant son.

But as the hours dragged on, the increasingly desperate search failed to turn up any more survivors, even as crews heard people yelling for help. No one was found alive after that first day.

Yet, officials and others still clung to the hope of finding survivors, even days later. Family members and neighbors also conducted their own searches, using chain saws and their bare hands to dig through the mess of broken wood, fallen trees and mud.

From the beginning, rescue crews faced dangerous and unpredictable conditions as they navigated quicksand-like mud. The threat of potential flash floods or another landslide also loomed over them. Conditions remain dangerous, and authorities "are still concerned about safety in the slide area.

"This area is very dangerous and unpredictable," Trenary said.

At one point, the list of missing people had about 220 names, but authorities quickly whittled down that number as they identified duplicate names or as people believed missing in the slide turned up safe.

The death toll slowly ticked up each week, as more bodies were recovered and identified.

Among the dead were three generations of one family, a 4-month-old girl and her grandmother, a young couple who were planning an August wedding by the river, and contractors working in the neighborhood that morning.

State transportation officials have said it could take up to three months to clear the debris from the highway.

Meanwhile, the county is leading long-term recovery efforts for the area, including housing, economic recovery and mental health.

"Our goal is to do our best to bring normalcy back to the valley in a timely matter knowing full well that for many families, normalcy may never return," said Gary Haakenson, the county's executive director.


Associated Press video journalist Bill Gorman contributed to this report from Darrington, Wash.

Join the discussion

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Danielle April 28 2014 at 8:38 PM

OSO STRONG!!! I grew up in the area, and know how strong and proud the people are. Such a horrific event to have happened, but the community (Fire, EMT's, OEM, Etc) stepped up and did what they needed to do. To have found 41 in the conditions, just goes to show how dedicated they really are/were. My hope is that while they are scaled back they will be able to recover the last 2. Thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the families and community members in the area.

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Betty Varner April 29 2014 at 9:06 AM

the ones left behind are just earthly bodies, their spirits are no longer present. they are buried in the place they loved best, home. they are resting in peace, the loved ones left behind are not. So they are the ones that need our prayers now. Hopefully their "closure" will come in the form of knowing thier loved ones have eternal peace residing in a beautiful hilltop mansion, no more land slides, no more troubles, just peace.

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PACRIMCO April 29 2014 at 9:28 AM

"They buried me in that great tomb that knows no sound, but I am still around; I'll always be around............" from Willie Nelson's album song "The Highwayman" Perhaps we are all existing in a never ending circle birth, life, death, rebirth. Quien sabe?

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arnoldhoneybrown April 29 2014 at 9:35 AM

Sorry got to do some venting. Huffingpost only lets DNC people speak on there news post . There are several jerks writing today , one being some jerk named : PLANETJEFFITY !! Name should tell volumes but he is loving the damage an bust the South along with his so called FANS !

Let me tell you something Jeffity , after 911 the Memphis area down to Tupelo area to Jackson MS an Jackson TN Sent the following an remember as you JEFF pointed out these areas are in nature poor areas . These Poor folks sent to NY a total of 32 18 Wheelers full of supplies ! Many donated by folks who's trucks don't run very well . Not counting Corporate donations , the PEOPLE Donated over $5 million dollars !

JEFF / Huffington Post ; what did you do Jeff ?? Bet you and yours set on your collective Butts an complained ! Memphis an area sent 50 Fire fighters / EMT / Police officers to help dig for weeks . So again JEFF what did you an your followers , an by comments mostly all DNC sponcers do !
With people like you an your followers an media like Huffington Post , its no wonder why this country is drifting apart . Sir you are one SICK puppy !!

Sorry folks but enough of the DNC crap especially when lives have been lost , is enough ! This is the attitudes that have taken over this country , Sad Sad day !!

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Chip April 29 2014 at 10:37 AM

Many thanks to the men and women who did what they could to find survivors.

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frankdlu April 29 2014 at 11:03 AM


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megod April 29 2014 at 11:47 AM

did the best they could under the circumstances
bless all the volunteers for their efforts

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Harland April 29 2014 at 11:57 AM

godBless you all RIP

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DenaliMan April 29 2014 at 12:09 PM

"Snohomish County Executive John Lovick said Monday that the county and state have formed a joint commission to independently review what happened before and after the slide, including what the county knew about the landslide dangers in the area."

What happened? March was a very rainy month ...I believe the rainiest in history for much of the area. The hill gave way and tragically a community was wiped out.

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Linda April 29 2014 at 7:00 AM

I really cannot even begin to imagine losing someone I loved this way. Just terrible stuff. Very sad indeed. REST IN PEACE to all who perished on that terrible day.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
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