This morning, Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary announced the end of active search operations at the site of the March 22 mudslide near Oso, Wash.
Trenary said it was a difficult decision to make and relied on “a little bit of soul searching and a lot of information from the scene.”
Trenary stressed that efforts would still be made to find the final two victims believed to still be missing in the debris field, Steven Hadaway, 53, and Molly Kristine Regelbrugge, 44.
At its peak, there were more than 1,000 people working on the search and recovery effort at one time. Over the weekend, it was down to only a few dozen. But their mission hadn’t changed: find every last victim. Small-scale searches will continue depending on weather and evidence.
“We really wanted to be the group that recovered everybody,” Trenary said. “So we haven’t lost faith.”
He said that crews need more information and for more water to recede from the areas that officials believe are most likely to contain the victims. That’s particularly important for the Darrington side of the slide, where water is preventing teams and dogs from searching.
On the Oso side of the slide, Trenary said it was like finding a needle in a haystack. He said the pace remains painstakingly slow, but the process is very respectful of the victims and their families.
The end of active search means National Guard troops and support staff will be demobilized. Management of state Route 530 will also be turned back over to the state Department of Transportation.
Snohomish County Executive John Lovick said that the mudslide was the most complex operation he’s seen in his life, including the eruption of Mount St. Helens and his work in the Coast Guard and state patrol. He expressed disappointment in reports that criticized the initial response to the slide.
“I’m tremendously disappointed that people are trying to turn a success into a failure, and we’re not going to let that happen,” Lovick said. Rescuers saved 11 people on the day of the slide and have recovered 41 victims from the disaster site.
He passed on praise for the various agencies that assisted with search and recovery efforts and for the resilience of the community. Many were involved in the search for their loved ones.
“Our grief is surpassed only by our gratitude for you,” he said of the volunteers. “You gave us hope.”
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