USATODAY.com) - The sad, slow, dangerous work of searching through the mud in Oso, Wash., went on Tuesday as authorities declared the official death toll from the March 22 landslide to be 28. There are still 20 people unaccounted for.
Of the 28, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office has been able to positively identify 22. Officials say receding floodwaters are helping in the search.
The newest names on the victims list are Thom E. Satterlee, 65, Lon E. Slauson, 60, and Adam Farnes, 23. As did the others, they died of blunt-force injuries in the March 22 mudslide northeast of Seattle.
Earlier, the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office Major Crimes Unit released the names of 22 people presumed missing. Because eight of the bodies recovered from the slide have not been identified, it's possible that they could be among the 22 on the missing list.
The number of missing had at one point been as high as 179. Sheriff's detectives carefully reviewed each of the missing-person cases based on available information and conversations with family members.
"To have released a list earlier of 90 to 100 names would have been irresponsible," Snohomish County Executive Director Gary Haakenson said.
"The Sheriff's Office hasn't released these names without some pause," he said. "These are 22 people that we cannot account for. These are 22 people whose loved ones are grieving. We want to do all we can to find them and put some closure in place for their families."
"It's a very critical week," Lt. Richard Burke of the Bellevue Police Department said.
On Monday, workers were able to create a three-dimensional grid of the search area. Previously, much of the work was on the surface of the slide.
Officials from across Washington state have sent people to help, including searchers, police officers, detectives and other staffers.
"We are getting some fresh muscles and some new eyes working the debris fields," Burke said.
As of Tuesday, the search area covered about 300 acres. As much as 30% of it is still under as much as 80 feet of mud. Those areas cannot be searched because the mud is still too wet and unstable, Burke said.
Extremely wet weather has hampered search efforts.
How much longer the search will go on is unknown.
"That's the million-dollar question, how long this operation could go," Burke said. "It's just hard to say."
Contributing: KING5-TV; pool reporting by Eric Stevick The (Everett) Daily Herald