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Deadly Mudslide

Rain and Chemical Contamination Hinder Mudslide Search Efforts

Heavy rain and contamination from household and industrial chemicals hampered search efforts Saturday in the aftermath of a massive and deadly mudslide that washed over a square mile of Snohomish County, Wash., a week earlier.

Ecology experts are "finding lots of propane and acetylene tanks, along with chemicals like drain cleaner and paint thinner," Snohomish County officials said in a statement.

Haz-Mat teams were sent to the potentially contaminated areas to assess whether crews could safely work around them Saturday, the statement said.

“The focus right now is search of the site, so we are marking areas of contamination, and later we will deal with contamination,” Dick Walker, a senior official with the state Department of Ecology’s spill response program, told NBC News.

Many of the affected homes are also buried on top of septic systems, and crews were advised to dig through the mud and debris with caution, according to the government statement.

Another challenge for the crews and volunteers trying to recover victims and bodies from the quicksand-like mud is persistent downpours that have made the search effort “miserable,” according to Snohomish County officials.

“As you know, it's rained heavily the last few days," said Gary Haakenson, executive director for public safety in Snohomish County, said Friday.

Nearly an inch of rain had fallen by Saturday, according to Seattle NBC affiliate King 5. And the National Weather Service put Snohomish County under a flash flood watch until Monday afternoon.

Seventeen people have been officially confirmed dead in the enormous slide and another body was found in a debris field Friday, officials said. Dozens more are still missing and unaccounted for.

— Elisha Fieldstadt

Image: Rescue workers search for victims of the mudslide in Oso
Rescue workers search for victims of the mudslide in Oso, Washington March 29, 2014. Family and friends of 90 people still missing after a wall of mud flattened the outskirts of a rural Washington state town increasingly feared for the worst on Saturday as the governor called for a statewide moment of silence a week after the disaster. POOL / Reuters