Weary Mudslide Searchers Fear Rise in Death Toll

OSO, Wash. -- Fresh searchers are rotating in regularly to replace weary rescue teams battling rain and exhaustion in hopes of still finding someone alive in a massive mudslide that demolished several dozen homes and killed at least 26 people.

The body of 4-month-old girl, Sanoah Violet Huestis, was found Thursday not far from where her the body of her grandmother, Christina Jefferds, was discovered on Sunday.

Sanoah's mother, Natasha Huestis, who was in nearby Arlington when disaster struck, confirmed that her child's body was found.

Her daughter's name means "mist in the mountains" in Hawaiian, Huestis told KING-TV earlier this week. "And you know, she's in the mountains right now," she said.

The family had waited to bury Jefferds until they could lay Sanoah to rest beside her.

Both were covered by the massive balls of mud from a 600-foot hill that swept down the mountain last Saturday turning what was once a country lane of homes, cabins and barns into a disaster zone of grey and brown mud.

"You've got clay balls the size of ambulances that have rolled off that hill and smashed into everything as they've come down," said Chief Travis Hots of Snohomish County Fire District 21.

Although at least 26 bodies have been located, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office said Thursday night the official death toll was 17. Some family have unofficially confirmed the additional deaths.

"I fully expect that number to go up here very, very soon," said Hots, KING5.comreports.

A revised total was expected to be released at a news conference at 9 a.m. local time (noon ET).

"We do know this could end up being the largest mass loss of Washingtonians," Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday. "We're looking for miracles to occur."

The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens killed 57 people and a 1910 avalanche near Stevens Pass swept away two trains and killed 96.

The 200 searchers are moving methodically among the mud and wreckage, with rescue and cadaver dogs occasionally leading crews to a wrecked car or smashed house containing a body. Teams then began removing the corpse.

Their main goal now is to find more bodies and narrow the list of the 90 people who are still missing or unaccounted for.

Because of the possibility of finding more survivors, the forensic digging team -- sometimes working in waist-deep mud -- must inspect each demolished home very carefully as they slowly bore into piles of wood and metal.

"The folks who are out there can't keep doing this forever," said Hots. "They're getting tired and need a break."


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