Over 200 emergency responders and volunteers searched through truckloads of mud, crushed homes, and flipped cars for a fifth day Wednesday in search for survivors and bodies buried beneath the mudslide that devastated the village of Oso. Washington.
Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington confirmed two more bodies were recovered in addition to eight others found on Tuesday, brining the death toll to 24.
The heartbreaking discoveries coupled with the notion that dozens of neighbors and friends still remain missing, dampened the mood of the search effort. The threat of flash floods or another landslide kept emergency responders on edge.
Pennington and Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said the chance of finding survivors is slim, but the effort remained a rescue and recovery operation.
“We haven’t lost hope. There’s a possibility that we could find somebody alive in some pocket area as the days go on,” Hots said. “We are coming to the realization that may not be a possibility, but we are going full steam ahead.”
Hots said approximately 200 emergency responders used search dogs, heavy equipment and their own two hands to dig through the debris field – which was at one time a community of a few dozen homes on the Stillaguamish River that featured breathtaking views of hillsides and a bluff. Rain drizzled throughout the day, creating wet roads and dangerous conditions for searchers.
A volunteer rescue worker got injured when a small piece of debris was thrown up in helicopter wash and hit the man in the head. The worker was taken to the hospital immediately from the minor injury.
Another volunteer, local logger Gene Karger, said he could see six orange flags in the debris field, which signified bodies they would be pulling out from the muck. Karger noted this was his first time involved in this kind of rescue work.
“You see parts of their bodies sticking out of the mud. It’s real hard. It’s that bad,” Karger said. “There are people out there we know.”