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More Heavy Equipment Works Slide Site, But Dead, Missing Unchanged

Rescuers must search using dogs, hand tools before bringing in big machines, slowing progress, county officials say.

Searchers hunting for survivors or victims of the Washington state mudslide brought in more heavy equipment to aid in the effort on Thursday, but both the death toll and number of missing remained unchanged.

At an evening briefing in Arlington, Wash., Snohomish County responders said that the official toll of dead and missing remained at 16 and 90, respectively – unchanged for more than 24 hours despite the despite the arrival of more tractors and other excavation equipment.

Snohomish County District 21 Fire Chief Travis Hots said the painstaking nature of the work and the slim hope that rescuers might find survivors trapped in pockets in the debris field were preventing the search teams from covering large areas of ground.

“We don’t just go out there without a plan and move around with heavy equipment because we’re still in a rescue mode,” he said. "...What we are doing, we are using dogs and hand digging and we are using shovels and once areas are cleared, then we get bigger equipment in there.”

But authorities acknowledged that at least nine additional bodies have been located and said they expect the official death toll to climb on Friday.

"I fully expect that number to go up here very, very soon," said Hots.

Hots and Emergency Management Director John Pennington said they had visited the nearby town of Darrington on Thursday and found the isolated community was weathering the disaster.

“Darrington’s spirits are high, their hopes are high,” Pennington said. “... The word that comes to mind when I walk around Darrington is resilience.”

Pennington indicated that one reason for visiting the town was to assess the incident command post there and said he found “ a little bit of improvement” was needed.

He said state resources had been made available to activate a “Type 2 Incident Command Team” — a certified multi-agency group — to shore up the search and recovery effort on the east side of the slide.

“They were doing everything they could do in that very independent community, but we need to tighten it up a little and take it to the next level,” he said.

Officials indicated the next media briefing would be held at 9 a.m. PT on Friday.