OSO, Wash. - The landslide that has killed dozens of people with at least 90 more presumed dead is the worst natural disaster in Washington state history in the last century.
Snohomish County officials said Thursday night the number confirmed dead by the medical examiner is at 17, with an additional nine bodies found that still need to be recovered, bringing the known death toll to 26.
During a Thursday evening news conference, Snohomish County Fire Chief Travis Hots said the number is likely to change Friday morning at the 9 a.m. briefing.
“We understand there has been confusion over the reported number of fatalities,” said Hots. “This has been a challenging process for all of us. The sadness here is that we know this number will only increase.”
Department of Emergency Management Director John Pennington said there are 90 people confirmed missing or unaccounted for who are likely dead. That's about half the population of Oso. The status of 35 other people who may or may not have been in the area during the time of the slide is not known.
Authorities will focus on finding those 90, but Pennington acknowledged that not everyone may be located.
The number of missing had been fluctuating — at one point reaching as high as 220 — but authorities were able to verify that 140 people once reported missing had been located, Pennington said.
"Would I like to see it drop to zero? Yes. Do I think it will? No," Pennington said.
Thursday is the sixth day of searching, but crews haven't seen any signs of life since Saturday night.
While the grim work of recovery continues, the effort to help survivors also rolls on. The Department of Licensing will be in Darrington, re-issuing driver's licenses and IDs to people who have lost everything.
Community Transit is starting emergency bus service from Darrington to Everett on Friday.
The tight-knit community is trying to come to terms with the disaster.
Nikki Behner has been sleeping in a barn since she was evacuated Saturday. She was one of many who crowded into the Oso Community Chapel Wednesday night, desperate to find hope.
Everyone is rallying to help those who lost loved ones and everything they own, inncluding a 10-year-old girl named Gracie.
Gracie is creating a foundation to set up kitchens, bathrooms and kids' rooms for displaced slide victims. Her family is setting up a website to coordinate supplies and help through the Oso Chapel.
Dozens of people prayed together at an Arlington church. Church leaders at the Smokey Point Community Church said they're working closely with the community to help in the relief effort.
For those suffering from the effects of the landslide, a hotline is available for anyone struggling to deal with the disaster. Snohomish County established the number -- 1-800-584-3578 -- for victims, community members or anyone who wants to talk.
News conferences are scheduled for 9 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Thursday. We'll carry them live on KIRO TV, kirotv.com an on mobile devices through the KIRO 7 app.