Members of the Washington National Guard involved in the search and rescue operation in the fatal mudslide said they won't give up hope that they might find someone in the debris.
"From our perspective, we’re in rescue mode the entire time," Capt. Brad Sanders, commander of fatality search and recovery team, said at a news conference Thursday. "We never give up hope that we’re going to be able to find somebody."
Workers are wading through the debris slowly, piece by piece, using their hands and shovels to dig, Senior Airman Charlotte Gibson said.
In some areas, rescuers have sunk into the mud knee- and even waist-deep, she added.
The number of those unaccounted for, now believed to be around 90, has been adjusted lower since Saturday’s disaster as more people are confirmed safe, identified as duplicates or inevitably counted among the dead.
Rescuers said collapsed structures buried in the mud no longer look like houses, and teams look for objects such as books or clothes to figure out where residences once stood.
“I don’t think that anything could really prepare you for what you see out there," said Master Sgt. Chris Martin, search team leader with search and extraction unit.
When the teams do come across human remains, they mark the location with GPS coordinates and flag the command post to either bring search dogs or other specialists.
The rescuers, many of whom are volunteers who hold other jobs, have vowed to remain at the site of the slide until they are no longer needed.
"My heart goes out to them," Sanders said of victims' families. "They lost everything and their family members have lost everything.
"We want to do as much as we possibly can," he added.
— Becky Bratu and M. Alex Johnson
First published March 27 2014, 4:46 PM