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Death Toll in Washington Mudslide Expected to Soar

The official death count in Saturday's slide stands at 17 people, with about 90 still missing. Those numbers could change significantly over the next day.
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The number of confirmed dead in the Washington state mudslide is expected to jump considerably Friday evening, but the official toll stands at 17 for now, officials said.

Emergency officials defended the slow trickle of information, saying the Snohomish County medical examiner has to certify the number of bodies it has received and the identities of the victims.

District 21 Fire Chief Travis Hots said that other bodies have been recovered, but they will not be added to the official toll onto the medical examiner signs off.

"There's a process that we have in place," a weary-sounding Hots said, promising updated numbers at an evening briefing.

Saturday's collapse of a hillside in Oso buried 49 homes or trailers in a crushing wave of mud, and locating and extricating the dead has been arduous.

Officials have said they have 90 names on a list of people who may be missing, but it's unclear how many of those were actually in the mudslide zone at the time.

The county medical examiner’s office has so far formally identified five of the 17 confirmed victims, according to The Associated Press: Christina Jefferds, 45, of Arlington; Stephen A. Neal, 55, of Darrington; Linda L. McPherson, 69, of Arlington; Kaylee B. Spillers, 5, of Arlington and William E. Welsh, 66, of Arlington.

The body of one of the youngest victims, 4-month-old Sanoah Huestis, the granddaughter of Jefferds, was found Thursday, according to the family. But the medical examiner’s office must still verify the remains.

— Erik Ortiz