'Almost Nonexistent' Chance of Washington Mudslide Survivors

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The chances of finding new survivors in the Washington mudslide are "almost nonexistent," a federal incident commander said Wednesday, but searchers are still hopeful that the 13 people still missing will be located.

The number of people missing in the tragedy — at once as high as 176 people but trimmed to 22 people by Tuesday — stood at 13 people on Wednesday evening, officials said.

Three more deceased victims were also publicly named on Wednesday: Delaney Webb, 19, Katie Ruthven, 35, and Thomas Durnell, 65.

The total number of positively identified fatalities now stands at 26, out of 29 bodies recovered, according to the Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office.

Larry Nickey, the federal incident commander brought in to oversee the more than 350 people from various departments and agencies engaged in the search-and-rescue mission, told reporters that families have been counseled and understand the long odds of survival.

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"This is still a rescue mission," Nickey said. "But the probability of finding anyone alive is very slim, almost nonexistent."

The search, which initially was boosted by a large group of volunteers from the community including some family members of the missing, is transitioning into a more sophisticated operation across a grid pattern that is being searched by professionals.

"We're transitioning from what we call a hasty search to a more refined search," he said.

As an evening news briefing, Richard Burke, a Bellevue Fire Department spokesman assisting in search and relief information, dismissed a suggestion that some people might never be found.

Mostly taking over the search are two Army National Guard teams that have special training in urban search and rescue, with experience sifting through debris from collapsed buildings, Nickey said.

Search dogs have become a key part of the search, identifying areas that offer good chances of finding victims. But the dogs become tired, so another fresh group of 20 dogs is due to arrive on Thursday.

The majority of the bodies have been found on the northeast and southeast sections of the slide's debris pile.

At least 29 people were killed when a 600-foot hillside collapsed and buried an Oso, Wash., neighborhood in mud and debris on March 22, officials said. Twenty-three of the bodies recovered in the arduous search through the debris field had been identified as of Wednesday morning.

President Barack Obama on Wednesday approved Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s request to declare the mudslide a major disaster, an upgrade from a previous declaration, which opens up addition federal aid and resources.

Funerals are scheduled for some of the victims on Saturday.

Workers cross the site of the mudslide near Oso, Wash., where 27 are now confirmed to have died, March 31, 2014. Snohomish County officials on Tuesday released the names of the dead and the 22 remaining missing, presumed still buried under the one-square-mile debris field, 80 feet deep in places, that covers the site of 49 homes. (Michael Hanson/The New York Times)MICHAEL HANSON / Redux Pictures