DISASTER IMPACT: The Death Toll Rises To 36 In Washington State Landslide, 10 Still Listed As Missing – President Obama Decares Area A Major Disaster; $42.1 MILLION In Damage, Search And Recovery Cost!

April 10, 2014 – WASHINGTON STATE, UNITED STATES – The death toll in the massive mudslide that devastated a Washington town more than two weeks ago has risen to 36, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed Wednesday evening.

Searchers work at the scene of a deadly mudslide Saturday, March 29, 2014, in Oso, Wash.
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, Pool)

Detectives with the Snohomish County sheriff’s office were also able to cross another name off the list of missing from the Oso landslide and it’s now down to 10 people.

Last week, President Barack Obama declared a major disaster for the damage, which makes programs available to individuals and businesses affected by the mudslide.

The declaration also provides help for debris removal and emergency measures such as barricades, sand bags and safety personnel.

Below are some facts and observations about this still-developing situation.

How Are the Bodies Processed?
When bodies or remains are found in the mudslide area, crews dig them out and they are flown by helicopter to a nearby landing pad where they are readied to move to the medical examiner’s office in Everett, about 30 miles from the scene.

Once there, the bodies are moved to a tented area for decontamination, where they are cleaned in warm water. From there they are moved to the autopsy room where examiners take fingerprints, look for signs of dental work and identifying marks such as tattoos.

When that work is complete, remains are moved to a refrigerated area where they stay until funeral homes make arrangements for burial or cremation.

Why Does It Take So Long to Identify Bodies?

The process for identifying remains, some of which are partial, is careful work, especially when trauma is involved, Thiersch said.

“This isn’t going into a room and saying, ‘This is him,'” he said.

Searchers work at the scene of a deadly mudslide Saturday, March 29, 2014, in Oso, Wash.
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, Pool)

Standing trees and downed trees line the side edge of a massive mudslide Thursday, March 27, 2014,
that struck Saturday near Darrington, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, Pool)

Workers use heavy equipment to clear trees and other debris, Thursday, March 27, 2014, as the search continued for
victims of the massive mudslide that struck Saturday near Darrington, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, Pool)

Efforts to identify using dental work, fingerprints or tattoos, can take time and if that doesn’t work, officials turn to DNA testing. But that works best in cases in which a close family member can give a sample for comparison. They’ve only needed to use DNA testing to identify one of the slide victims.

At the same time, detectives are working to help determine identities by using information from families, social media accounts and belongings from the site.


How Many People Are Working There? What Do They Do?

The regular staff of about 12 at the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s office has been supported with dozens of professionals from King, Pierce, Skagit and Kitsap counties and members of the Air National Guard.

Medical examiners are working with pathologists, dentists and medical investigators to clean bodies, take fingerprints, and note tattoos or other distinguishing features. Detectives and other professionals do online research and call families to determine the identities of the victims.

How Do Workers Cope in These Difficult Situations?
People working at the medical examiner’s office are doing everything from calling family members to cleaning bodies and the stress takes a toll.

On Wednesday, a therapy dog named Paddington comforted members of the Air National Guard and medical investigators.

WATCH: New Problems for Mudslide Rescuers.

A team of county mental health workers was expected to visit the office later this week to meet with workers one-on-one.

Medical examiner’s office deputy director Dennis Peterson said staff has been so dedicated to the work that he’s had to “kick them out” to force them to rest.

Financial Costs
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says the mudslide caused about $10 million in damage to homes destroyed in the slide area and their contents.

He estimates further costs of $32.1 million for search and recovery efforts, and to remove all the debris. But he says the costs could go higher. – TWC.

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