EVERETT, Wash. – SR530 slide search teams will direct their efforts to a smaller section as early as Friday morning.
In the coming days, workers at the slide area will shift the focus of their search to the area south of the temporary berm. Experts say this area, which includes two of the total 21 search zones, offers the highest probability of search success.
Since the SR530 slide March 22, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office has identified 39 individual fatalities. Four more people remain on the list of missing.
As the search area narrows, the goal of the search crews remains the same: to find as many of the missing individuals for their families as possible.
Since the berm was constructed, workers have drained the area of water from the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, which was backed up as a result of the slide blocking the river’s flow. The next step is to allow the area to dry out so workers can safely search it.
Right now, the area is too dangerous to search. When the search will begin is weather dependent; the area may be dry enough to search by Friday, but this week’s rain could delay the timetable.
This search will involve specially trained staff, and fewer workers than earlier search efforts, primarily for worker safety. Although the number of people involved in the search will be reduced, work will continue at all levels: local, state, tribal and federal.
The “wide-area” search will continue, but on a smaller scale, while the work south of the berm will be a technical, targeted search. Search and rescue leaders think this approach offers the best chance to locate missing people.
Current plans call for the following teams to remain on site: a Snohomish County technical search team; a total of eight canine teams; Washington Task Force 1 to prepare for departure on April 19; up to 100 Washington National Guard soldiers to continue searching, with 15 to 20 trained as spotters (crews with specialized instruction that aid the National Guard); a Type 3 Incident Management team to arrive on April 21 and a Type 2 team to demobilize on April 24.
An important related issue is re-establishing the vital SR530 transportation link between Darrington, Oso and Arlington. Search crews must complete their work in the area south of the berm before the Washington State Department of Transportation can evaluate the highway damage, begin clearing the highway and formulate a plan for making repairs.
As the search area narrows, individuals are strongly urged to stay away from the slide area. This area remains too dangerous for people to visit.
While the search is shifting to a new phase, support for local residents and property owners will continue at the local, state, tribal and federal levels.