Waters recede, helping search for mudslide victims

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Debra Hoskins ties yellow ribbons onto the North Fork Stillaguamish River Bridge near Arlington, Wash., on Tuesday, April 1, 2014. “Ribbons signify that you expect the return of a loved one. For me this is just showing faith. We’re just believing that every single body will be returned to their families,” Hoskins, who is a pastor, said. The death toll from the March 22 mudslide has increased to 28. (AP Photo/The Seattle Times, Lindsey Wasson) SEATTLE OUT; USA TODAY OUT; MAGS OUT; TELEVISION OUT; NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDIT TO BOTH THE SEATTLE TIMES AND THE PHOTOGRAPHER

Debra Hoskins ties yellow ribbons onto the North Fork Stillaguamish River Bridge near Arlington, Wash., on Tuesday, April 1, 2014. “Ribbons signify that you expect the return of a loved one. For me this is just showing faith. We’re just believing that every single body will be returned to their families,” Hoskins, who is a pastor, said. The death toll from the March 22 mudslide has increased to 28. (AP Photo/The Seattle Times, Lindsey Wasson) SEATTLE OUT; USA TODAY OUT; MAGS OUT; TELEVISION OUT; NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDIT TO BOTH THE SEATTLE TIMES AND THE PHOTOGRAPHER

Bellevue Fire Department Lt. Richard Burke answers media questions at the west site of the mudslide on Highway 530, near Oso, Wash., on Tuesday, April 1, 2014. The death toll from the March 22 mudslide has increased to 28. (AP Photo/The Seattle Times, Lindsey Wasson) SEATTLE OUT; USA TODAY OUT; MAGS OUT; TELEVISION OUT; NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDIT TO BOTH THE SEATTLE TIMES AND THE PHOTOGRAPHER

Workers carrying hand tools and shovels walk past a U.S. flag, Tuesday, April 1, 2014, near Darrington, Wash., in the debris field of the deadly mudslide that hit the community of Oso,Wash. on March 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Washington State Department of Transportation workers enter the mudslide site on a constructed path of plywood on Highway 530 near mile marker 37, near Oso, Wash., Tuesday, April 1, 2014. The death toll from the March 22 mudslide has increased to 28. (AP Photo/The Seattle Times, Lindsey Wasson) SEATTLE OUT; USA TODAY OUT; MAGS OUT; TELEVISION OUT; NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDIT TO BOTH THE SEATTLE TIMES AND THE PHOTOGRAPHER

An American flag found in the debris hangs at half-staff on a single standing tree, with the slide site in the background, at the west site of the mudslide on Highway 530, near Oso, Wash., on Tuesday, April 1, 2014. The death toll from the March 22 mudslide has increased to 28. (AP Photo/The Seattle Times, Lindsey Wasson) SEATTLE OUT; USA TODAY OUT; MAGS OUT; TELEVISION OUT; NO SALES; MANDATORY CREDIT TO BOTH THE SEATTLE TIMES AND THE PHOTOGRAPHER

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ARLINGTON, Wash. (AP) — It is a grim step forward in the search for human remains at a mudslide that crushed a rural Washington community, but an important one: floodwaters at the site are receding, allowing crews to expand their search and yielding more human remains in areas that previously couldn’t be reached. The views presented Tuesday on a media tour were chilling: shredded homes and twisted cars.

More than 10 days after a large section of a rain-soaked hill crashed down on a neighborhood in the small community of Oso, teams with cadaver dogs are still sifting through debris and soil to determine exactly how many people died in the March 22 mudslide.

The mudslide had dammed up the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, causing water to pool. Heavy rain last week added to the flooding. But on Tuesday, the weather was dry and sunny again. With the rain stopped, at least for a few days, the floodwaters are receding, which is allowing more crews to switch from water pumping to searching.

“A lot of logjam areas, that’s where we’re finding human remains,” search effort division supervisor Steve Harris said on Tuesday.

Here are some facts and observations in one of the worst natural disasters to hit Washington state in this century:

THE DEAD:

Officials have so far confirmed the death of 28 people. They range in age from 4-month-old Sonoah Heustis to 71-year-old Lewis F. Vandenburg. A total of 20 people are missing. They range in age from 2-year-old Brooke Sillers to Bonnie J. Gullikson, 91. Some of the missing and dead are related.

THE MUDSLIDE SITE:

From a vantage point about a mile from the collapsed hillside, the magnitude of the slide is chilling, even if only a part of it can be seen. Where there was a state highway, there’s now a bed of mud and debris as much as 80 feet deep in some spots. There are few signs that a community existed here, replaced now by a field of debris of hundreds of acres. Heavy machinery is dwarfed by the mounds of mud. Crews wearing bright safety clothing trek carefully on paths made of plywood or through deep mud, using poles to assure their footing. Piles of downed trees and branches dot the brown mud field. What were houses, they’re now shredded remains. Cars were pancaked and twisted.

“The mountain didn’t slide like an avalanche that starts at the top and slides down. It actually blew out at the bottom. And all of that energy, because of the weight of top on it, blew across the river and brought all that water and material in it,” said Lt. Richard Burke, a firefighter and incident spokesman.

The valley then channeled the slide like a bowl.

He added: “Like a big soup bowl, it kind of sloshed up the bank and came back down.”

Nothing has yet been removed from the field. The debris is contaminated with remains of septic tanks and other “contaminants” found in cars and garages. Crews have begun piling up trees and house items in different sections, Burke added.

Said Harris: “Cars and propane tanks and all the things people have around their homes is in the debris mix. There’s stuff buried

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