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Slide site work shifts from active to passive search operations
EVERETT — Snohomish County officials explained on Monday, April 28, that the end of active search operations at the State Route 530 slide site will not mark an end to the search overall, nor will it result in the remaining search operations being conducted at a quicker pace.
Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary elaborated that this represents a reduction from 900 -1,000 people per day, working during the height of the search, to as few as 30 searchers now, who will be conducting passive search operations as debris removal commences.
Spotters in the field will work alongside heavy equipment operators to identify personal property that might still be in the slide material, and an active search could resume if conditions change, allowing access to areas that were previously inaccessible, or if evidence indicates the proximity of a victim.
“We will still be proceeding responsibly, and it will still be a painstakingly slow process,” said Trenary, who credited the search maps that were drawn up at the outset of the search with continuing to direct their efforts in the most efficient manner possible. “That mapping has given us really good information, but it’s still like trying to find a needle in a haystack.”
While 41 victims have been identified by the Snohomish County Medical Examiner, two people — 53-year-old Steven N. Hadaway and 44-year-old Molly K. Regelbrugge, both residents of Steelhead Drive — remain missing. According to Trenary, searchers believe that Hadaway’s body is in a pool deep enough that it will need to be drained before searching it becomes feasible. Trenary added that recent wet weather has further complicated the search.
When asked whether the remaining victims might not ever be recovered, Trenary admitted, “Unfortunately, that is possible, but I haven’t lost faith.”
Gary Haakenson, the county’s executive director on public safety issues, listed the eight areas that county officials consider keys to slide recovery, starting with the restoration of State Route 530, and including economic, natural and cultural, and social recovery, as well as the restoration of housing and infrastructure, with an eye on mental health and community planning. Although the current disaster recovery centers at the Oso Fire Station, the Arlington Department of Public Works and the Darrington Ranger District office will all close at the end of business on Saturday, May 10, Haakenson promised that long-term recovery offices will open in Darrington and Arlington, with assistance from former Snohomish County Council member John Koster.
“John is well known in this area,” Haakenson said.
Advice for slide victims will also continue to be available on a Federal Emergency Management Agency help line at 800-621-FEMA (3362).
Snohomish County Public Works Director Steve Thomsen compared the rugged terrain of the slide site to a “moonscape,” but proudly touted the fact a recently completed 1,200-foot temporary berm has allowed the reduction of 200 acres of ponding from the Stillaguamish River to 50 acres, with the aid of excavators. At the same time, Thomsen acknowledged that the 100-year flood plain for the area will need to be completely reconsidered, especially as river sediment is transported to new locations.
While Snohomish County Executive John Lovick pledged to work with Gov. Jay Inslee’s office on a joint independent commission of county and state officials, to review the actions that were taken both before and after the slide, Lovick nonetheless responded aggressively to allegations of delays in the various levels of government’s responses to the slide.
“In my 44 years of public service, this is the most complex operation I’ve ever seen, and the agencies involved did a tremendous job of bringing everyone together,” said Lovick, who characterized himself as “disappointed” by the allegations, before he quoted Dwight Eisenhower’s dictum that “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”
“Because of all the planning we had done, this county was prepared,” Lovick said.
More information about the State Route 530 slide can be found online at www.snohomishcountywa.gov/2354/530-Slide.