The official death toll from last month’s landslide in Washington state has risen to 30, according to local officials, with more than a dozen still listed as missing.
The Snohomish County medical examiner’s office released the names of two more victims: 67-year-old Gloria Halstead and 13-year-old Jovon E. Mangual, both of Arlington. Of the 30 confirmed victims, three have yet to be identified.
However, nearly two weeks after the tragedy that devastated the community of Oso, the number of missing remains a matter of confusion for local authorities and media outlets. As of Thursday, that figure has been variously reported as 13, 15 and 17.
Adding to the confusion, The Associated Press reports Thursday that “one set of remains does not fit with the description on the missing persons list.”
The AP says:
“The medical examiners know it is a male. But his remains give no clue as to who he was, or who might be looking for him. They can’t even identify his age range. Without possible family members to compare, DNA tests are useless. At this point, gold teeth are all they have to go on.”
Member station KUOW’s Ruby Luna reports that, in general, identifying remains from the March 22 mudslide has been “agonizingly slow.”
“We’ve been contacting the family members by phone, gathering as much information as we can on the missing, so when we have a decedent come in we’re ahead of the game with all the information,” Dennis Peterson, deputy director of the county’s medical examiner’s office in Everett said at a news conference. “They’ve been asking families for dental records, medical records, X-rays and for information about tattoos, or other identifying marks.”
“The deceased first pass through a makeshift tent — an extension of the receiving area — set up to provide privacy and a place to wash them. Because of the nature of the disaster, they need to be cleansed of mud, fuel, debris and other contaminants.
“From there, they’re moved to the autopsy room where medical examiners fingerprint them, take dental records and body X-rays. They use these to compare against medical records to aid identification.
“Examiners have determined that all the victims so far have died of blunt force trauma. None had been trapped in air pockets, or died of drowning, as some had feared.”