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US mudslide: death toll rises to 24

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Number of missing persons down to 22; Governor Jay Inslee seeks ‘major disaster declaration’ in Snohomish County

Authorities in Washington state said they believe 22 people are still missing in the deadly mudslide that has killed at least 24 people. That is down from the 30 people they previously considered missing. The Snohomish County medical examiner’s office said it has positively identified 18 of the 24 victims in the official death toll.

Snohomish County Executive Director Gary Haakenson says the remains of three additional victims were found on Monday, but they have not yet been included in the medical examiner’s official numbers. The slide struck a rural area northeast of Seattle on March 22.

Steve Harris, a division supervisor for the search effort, said search teams are learning more about the force of the March 22 slide, and that is helping them better locate victims in a debris field that is 70 feet (21 meters) deep in places. “There’s a tremendous amount of force and energy behind this,” Mr. Harris said of the slide. He didn’t provide further details.

A makeshift road completed over the weekend links one side of the 300-acre (122-hectare) debris field to the other. Search parties have had to contend with treacherous conditions, including household chemicals, septic tanks, gasoline and propane containers. When rescuers and dogs leave the site, they are hosed off by hazardous materials crews.

Governor Jay Inslee on Monday asked President Barack Obama for a major disaster declaration in Snohomish County to make programmes available to help individuals, households and businesses. Last week, a federal emergency declaration was approved that provided a federal disaster team and specialized personnel to the slide area.

Estimated financial losses have reached $10 million, Mr. Inslee said, adding that about 30 families need assistance with housing, along with personal and household goods. The estimated losses include nearly $7 million in structures and more than $3 million in their contents, Mr. Inslee’s letter said.

Meanwhile, a dozen members of the Seattle Seahawks football team and Seattle Sounders FC soccer team visited more than 300 children, parents and area residents at the Darrington Community Centre on Monday. Players said they signed autographs, tossed footballs and kicked soccer balls in an effort to bring some smiles to an area hit by tragedy.

“To be able to offer a little bit of a release or a distraction from what’s going on, I mean that’s all you can do,” Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith said. Sounders forward Kenny Cooper said he played pickup soccer with the kids.

One child, 10-year-old Jacob Spelman, wore an autographed bright green hat commemorating the Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory as he spoke to reporters after the visit. “I just feel like they care and that they would like it if we felt better and they came to help us,” he said.

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