SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

March 31, 2014

Search dogs take break from mudslide recovery

DARRINGTON, Wash. (AP) — Many of the dogs that have been essential in the search for victims of the deadly mudslide that buried the mountainside community of Oso will take a two-day break after long hours in the cold and rain, rescue crews said yesterday.

The dogs can lose their sensing ability if overworked, officials said.

“The conditions on the slide field are difficult, so this is just a time to take care of the dogs,” said Kris Rietmann, a spokeswoman for the team working on the eastern portion of the slide, which hit March 22 about 55 miles northeast of Seattle and is one of the deadliest in U.S. history.

Dogs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that arrived more recently will continue working, said Heidi Amrine, another spokeswoman for the operation.

Late Saturday, authorities revised the number of people believed to be missing from 90 to 30, while the official death toll increased by one, to 18, said Jason Biermann, program manager at the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management.

Officials have said they had expected the number of missing to change as they worked to find people safe and cross-referenced a list that likely included partial information and duplicate reports.

Authorities have said they recovered more than two dozen bodies, but they won’t be added to the official tally until a formal identification is made. Underscoring the difficulty of that task, Biermann said crews are not always discovering complete remains.

Crews have completed a makeshift road that will link one side of the debris field to the other, significantly aiding the recovery operation.

They have also been working to clear mud and debris from the highway, leaving piles of gooey muck, splintered wood and housing insulation on the sides of the road.

Searchers have had to contend with treacherous conditions, including septic tanks, gasoline and propane containers. When rescuers and dogs leave the site, they are hosed off by hazardous materials crews.

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