The Washington Mudslide Search Team Has More Than Mud to Worry About

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 1 2014 3:58 PM

The Washington Mudslide Search Team Has More Than Mud to Worry About

Crews work at the Oso mudslide site on March 29, 2014 in Oso, Washington.

Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images

The death toll from last week's mudslide in western Washington now stands at 27, with another 22 people still missing, officials there said today. As of the latest update, 19 of the confirmed had been IDed, all of whom lived in the landslide area. Of the missing, at least 16 are believed to have once lived on Oso's Steelhead Drive, which was in the direct pat of the slide and is now, in the words of the New York Times, "buried and robbed of any landmark or sign by which one might even find it."

In case wading through the mud wasn't enough of a challenge for those doing the searching, the powerful slide also brought with it debris from the town that's creating a toxic environment, via the Guardian:

Sewage, propane, household solvents and other chemicals all lie beneath the surface of the gray mud and rubble that covered a square mile of a small, rural community and left dozens dead and missing north-east of Seattle.
"We're worried about dysentery, we're worried about tetanus, we're worried about contamination," local fire lieutenant Richard Burke, a spokesman for the operation, told reporters visiting the disaster site on Sunday. "The last thing we want to do is take any of these contaminants out of here and take them into town, back to our families."

As a result, crews are being especially cautious, taping their boots to trousers to protect against the sludge and cleaning thoroughly before they leave the site. All that will only make an already slow-going process that much slower. "This is going to be a hazardous materials site for many years while we try to get this cleaned up," Burke said.

Kelly Tunney is a Slate intern in New York City.


Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It’s Not Easy for Me, but I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
Business Insider
Sept. 23 2014 10:03 AM Watch Steve Jobs Tell Michael Dell, "We're Coming After You"
The Vault
Sept. 23 2014 10:24 AM How Bad Are Your Drinking Habits? An 18th-Century Temperance Thermometer Has the Verdict
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 9:42 AM Listen to the Surprising New Single From Kendrick Lamar
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 10:51 AM Is Apple Picking a Fight With the U.S. Government? Not exactly.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 23 2014 7:00 AM I Stand With Emma Watson
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.