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Landslide death toll hits 27, with 22 missing

Crews make improvements on search technique

A worker scoured debris on Tuesday at the site of the deadly mudslide that hit western Washington last month.

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

A worker scoured debris on Tuesday at the site of the deadly mudslide that hit western Washington last month.

Searchers continued to recover remains Tuesday amid the debris caused by the landslide that swept down a mountainside more than a week ago in western Washington, officials said, as the death toll rose to 27, with 22 other people still missing.

The Snohomish County medical examiner’s office said 19 of the 27 dead had been identified. The latest victim identified was Brandy L. Ward, 58, of Arlington, Wash., who like the others died from blunt force injuries.

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All of the confirmed dead as well as those listed as missing lived in that region of western Washington where the landslide occurred. On the list of missing, at least 16 of the 22 once lived on Steelhead Drive in Oso, which was in the direct path of the slide and is now buried .

On Tuesday, Steve Harris, a supervisor in the search effort, said workers had refined their search techniques in the past few days and were able to zero in on areas where bodies may be found.

“In these areas where we find logs and debris,” he said during the news conference, “that’s where we’re finding human remains.”

After several days of near-constant rain in the area, searchers have been buoyed by improved weather, Harris said. The heavy rains caused additional flooding and made the thick mud even softer, creating difficult and dangerous conditions.

With the water receding, rescue workers have been able to extend their search. In addition, he said, rescue workers have taken advantage of tools that have been brought in, including sonar to search the water, and excavation equipment that has been placed on pontoons.

But he cautioned that “there’s a lot of material out there that very likely won’t be recovered.”

“The greatest challenge is working in areas with standing water,” Gary Haakenson, executive director of Snohomish County, said in a statement.

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