Officials Expect Death Toll to Spike as Crews Clear Washington State Mudslide

At least 90 people are still missing following massive mudslide in Arlington, Wash.
3:00 | 03/28/14

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Transcript for Officials Expect Death Toll to Spike as Crews Clear Washington State Mudslide
This is a special group. On dance company -- -- as ABC news -- -- special report what particular to Washington State where there's a news conference going away -- going on right now about those deadly mudslides. Let's listen in additional numbers later this afternoon and know that. The media that's -- reporting different numbers. But that's an official government spokesperson I get my information from the snohomish county medical Examiner's office and so. I can -- report. Number of people that the stomach -- -- medical Examiner's office reports so that official number right now is 717. Fatalities. Total which you have. Additional people that we recovered out there but that's not going to be part of the numbers provide today at this at this moment. -- -- -- -- -- So -- getting medical Examiner's office is doing -- job. They've got -- -- resources and from. All over the place they've got that the counties -- -- and they've got the National Guard in their help them with. With the process. The new director for the snohomish county medical Examiner's offices and -- -- Extremely high regard and I know that they're firing on all cylinders there and they're moving as quickly as it can't notebook yes -- give us that information percent. Department of emergency management director Pennington. He has put -- request into the stomachs can crossing prosecuting attorney's office. To determine if we can release the names of those ninety people that are missing -- four. And so we hope to have an answer about that later this afternoon. Operations planning meeting and so he will not be here at this briefing he'll likely be here. -- that you -- briefing at 6 o'clock so they'll have some updates on on on his part. Today it -- operations. The -- and the wind and the weather is basically working against us 100% chance of rain look at a window at twenty miles an hour places. All on the site that's gonna that's gonna further complicate things for our responders that are out there at the site it's. Areas that dried out -- going to become more saturated. Water there is it art -- water at that bill that we've been working and we'll see some additional you know water going to those -- it just makes things slower and and more complicated. And so we've got a hard day ahead of us. We've -- new geologists. That arriving on the scene to offer additional opinions to make sure that there's not the risk of additional slides. That could occur there. Second set -- additional -- size personal opinions. At this time we believe that. That everybody that is at the site. From an additional slide potential it is it safe that we -- credit you know continue to. And we are. The sense it is so large that that. Break the incident happened to different divisions -- got the west division which is on this that the east division in Darington. And -- so because that would get different branches that are set up on both. Both sides of the incident and it's it's it's working well getting getting things done -- getting. The that resources -- but he needs on both sides of the incident. Its complexities there with. With you know road systems and stuff like that won't work on getting an emergency road finished. Four emergency access -- A power -- -- so that we can expedite. You know getting resources and equipment on both sides. But I want to stress that that emerged notice for emerged from. Use only it's not a public road for people to come in and out of there. Fatigue of our our responders up there. Some of the folks have been there since day one and that's it that's a huge concern for me so we we've brought -- professionals to help out. With. Making sure there people's needs to take care -- the responders that are out there have been there since stabilized and that sort of things that they're seeing have to do in this emotional -- that's taking. It -- great credit to the Washington State Patrol. Department of fish and game that got their -- chaplain team out there working with. Not only. The people lost loved ones -- but also -- -- responders. Because that they're gonna need to help to -- and they're they're they're feeling it right now and we've. We will make sure they're taking care -- we help. There's community meeting at -- those -- we'll continue. The first night we had about 400 people -- to the community meeting last night. A hundred people. This tells us folks are getting the information. That they need and will continue to do this community -- there. Laws that are necessary and people that that. -- support the southern baptists. Organization as a write in there -- and the food can team. Is there for example. This morning that may pop breakfast. At the high school for all the students and -- We want to thank everybody for the continues donations coming into the communities affected by the slide. If you'd like to donate. The best thing to do is donate cash. We've we've got enough clothing and those types of things that dropped off at different locations you know -- -- and -- -- at -- -- them. More information about portability can be found online ourselves county's website at www. Snohomish county walk -- Four slash 2362 -- four slash how -- Two -- hell and I strongly enters. We've gotten some major. Corporation -- -- to monitor the press conference in Washington State for the latest on the search and rescue efforts in the -- that from the deadly mudslides so we just hear that he acquired -- and at this point. The death toll is at seventeenth at more bodies were recovered although they're not going into detail about that at this point seventeen Italians reported. Nine. In -- search efforts. I wanna go out to Washington State back again or ABC's keep of the -- is standing by -- Keiko the whether there's a bit of a break right now but as we just heard from the fire chief. Is still a major factor in this effort. Absolutely the rain is actually really started to come down in the last few minutes just as a press conference started. In addition to that you heard the fire -- say we're expecting strong winds that would definitely complicate efforts there are more than 200 search crews out. Cadaver dogs -- -- helicopters all combing every inch of this disaster zone. But with all of this. Rain and more strong winds it's sure to complicate efforts again today. -- -- It twisted debris those layers of month there's no shortage of hope here we're still a rescue mode here. As far as I'm concerned we're still in a rescue mode but nearly a week into this disaster that pain is starting to said he there curtain. The recover and their friends are -- people. That they know it's a tight. -- -- Community there ninety people are still -- -- here friends Brothers sisters and parents. All believed to be buried under this mixture of -- in collapsed homes. Their families waiting anxiously for them to come home. This is not an. You know -- I mean situation that that begins and ends in just wraps up in a real. Simple package Brian queen runs a website called breaking Skagit dot com he's posting the names and faces of the missing. Hoping to comfort this community I'm glad -- -- even from some. Tiny way. Bring some comfort some answers what are we can do everybody's trying to work together to -- the. Do the best they can -- -- speech in by bringing in parts to his auto shop to fix chain saws and power equipment -- used to move the -- He says every body in this community is affected by the disaster. And then the names with the faces. The and you start to realize -- that was a customer of ours. Any -- the fire chief had just talked a little bit about logistically how they're handling these efforts there and divided the area up into an east west almost into a divisional to try to cover more ground I'm assuming. That's right this is an area that's not a one square mile I mean it is it is a massive area in if you -- from this. From the air you can see how this slide just cut it didn't happen so -- -- divided between daring to this city Darington which -- to the east of the slight. And then Arlington Washington where we are in so we've been getting press conferences on both sides they divided the operations into sections because. They really need to because this disaster so -- It is so heart breaking their seventeenth fatalities ninety's still missing or unaccounted for in this is not a large community. Absolutely and in you hear that over and over and the local fire chief Travis talk -- you just heard from. You can see it on his face he knows a lot of these families that are affected. Any set himself yesterday at the press conference that these search crews are recovering their own in many cases. A lot of these crews from this area we have local volunteers that are searching -- well. They are finding people that -- now so they are still working aggressively working around the clock. But it really is starting to take -- pull on them emotionally. What about for the searchers for the rescuers that are out there that are here operated -- heavy machinery are digging through by hand. How are they able to sort of maintain their own safety because you've still got whether as a major factor with rain coming in and out of me. Clearly -- moving around these massive trees -- massive piece of equipment and the ground is still not that stable. Absolutely you know we we we know in the week that we have been here. In many cases these crews have had to just be held back because of this safety. That has to be the top concern. Before the crews are moving forward so. Again this rain we saw a bit of a break yesterday that this heavy rain is not helping the other thing that the chief mentioned. You know the are bringing you this heavy machinery to try indeed this -- Al but. But the chief said that we are still in a rescue mode so they don't want to bring in this machinery into -- it's into areas that are still unstable. In case there are still survivors these crews are still holding out hope that -- they can find somebody. That's a live out there -- so they -- -- be careful with this heavy machinery not to collapse areas that are unstable right now. What about the size of those kinds of efforts going on I know that FEMA and the National Guard were called to the scene there have additional. And back up spent called in has as are gonna -- growing number of people that are out there trying to dig through all of this. It may have they have they are cycling these crews in and out. Because. Just how labor intensive -- is what they're doing in because of the emotional tour of starting to take on these. First responders so they are cycling people in -- out. We do know there are more than 200 search crews on the ground -- you can expect more support to come in over the weekends with ninety people still missing. What about the fact that a lot of people that despite the fact that it is a small community from surrounding -- -- have been wanting to comment. And help out what are officials saying about those kinds of ambitions of of someone coming in saint if they're not a first responder -- are not trained in this kind of work. -- they still showing up to try to offer their help. They are showing up I do know that -- officials since. -- -- -- -- down local volunteers you know and in the initial days after this happened they. They were overwhelmed with the with requests from. Just residents out here who said we want to go out there we want to search for people in our community. And they narrowed down the list of people who had experience doing this these are still volunteers. But officials of told is that they feel safe letting these people into that area and those who can go in. -- are hosting fund -- there are prayers and vigils every night's we sell food drive yesterday. So -- the support for this community. And for these families who are still waiting to hear about their loved ones is really overwhelming. You had mentioned the fact that there has been the sort of a delay in getting some of the larger piece of equipment and there's some of those. Some of the back posed -- some of the -- is in there because of the instability the ground. But we also missing some shots of helicopters coming in there as well is that really the only way that -- able to get access into the center of that area is from an aerial drop. Well is it many cases yes because if you look -- and at the scene it really -- in the valley -- so. It's not one of those things where are you can just walking in in bringing in all that all all the search crews and they have to be careful just going in in fact. We heard a few days ago that there's says emergency road just one road. From the east side daring -- going Ian. Where a truck pull -- because this was a -- that was supposed to be used just four crews that we're fixing power lines before and now they've got this heavy equipment going in. What they're trying to do now is establish in emergency road where only these emergency crews can go in and out to speed up the process so. That's in place they are trying to fix that today. But again with this rain and then wind coming and the whether it's definitely a factor -- -- slowing down the anti. -- process ABC's -- -- -- on the edge of that area there -- thank you for that. I want to bring in now ABC's Neal Karlinsky who's on a phone listening to that news conference and Neil what is the fire chief -- as far as the additional efforts that are going into the search. Or hearing from the cheap as an enormous amount of frustration. Deductible and you heard static there remains at seventeen and -- a lot of frustration here because -- been getting these numbers. It could jump significantly but yet it hasn't. -- -- -- number they stick to. Any perspective. -- began to come -- very very. They think much more difficult in in what is really -- -- -- How to describe it in the actor's. Putting houses trees and mud into a one but over square mile area really. -- just sit back and think about I mean it is about perspective to -- that the enormity of the search area and the -- that they are sorting. And given the fact that is spring time that is the showers are trying to move in the weather obviously that very undeterred both factor. Are -- having to come up with some kind of a plan B for how we're gonna approaches if in fact it does continue to rain and it just continues to make that ground more saturated more unstable. Or another on the rain the weather forecaster users that we're just about it probably by the what they have broken the -- -- -- record in history. For the month of march around -- so. A lot of a lot of precipitation coming out there is no plan B however -- -- -- in there. Really really doing it with with their hands and with -- -- I think equipment they do have heavy moving heavy earth moving equipment bulldozers and that sort of thing. They're very conservative and they're used of the heavy equipment because I want to be very sensitive to the victims who may be in there. So they are really having to do this by hand that dog. Are enormous -- much better than any of the technology -- -- -- -- -- quickly because weather is terrible and walking through difficult conditions so. Now there is no plan B -- just switching from more manpower because people -- And continuing to agree this area off and comb through it by hand and with polls. Have officially having a difficult time by trying to keep some of those local volunteers -- some of the family members. A weigh in on of that sites it -- sort of alleviate any additional. Threats of danger to someone trying to get there. It really sensitive to the stamina to particularly on the -- side east side of this -- had been spending most of the week that they. Hardscrabble logging community and these people were determined to get them -- to -- -- -- do it themselves they didn't -- help -- sort of grim -- determination. A lot of probably backwards up ways to get in -- -- and amounts. They were doing essentially overnight or just finding their way to end and digging for the a lot on themselves. -- authorities have been sensitive to them and allowing them in some respects to get in -- and and do that. You know there have been very -- pool opportunities -- news cameras have been allowed in are just two cameras to shoot all the news media and the world essentially. And they've been brought in basically want to date from each side but they have been outspoken camera on -- -- -- -- Keeping them to a dare we very very narrow restricted area. In fact when -- has had a line of -- on what appeared to be family members and directly from. Taking any pictures of them at all. What is the fire chief what have any official as saying what are they most in need of at this point. I think they need a break in the weather and then they just need more time. There's just no way around situation they're dealing with. Are they asking for more volunteers are they asking for donations. Asking for more volunteers. They are asking actually but he -- donation in terms -- because Alder carry fire department which has been overwhelmed and can't keep up look at -- Financial help -- for the family -- something that everyone is. He's eager to encourage American local fund raisers global television station CDs usually rate pumping almost a million dollars yesterday -- -- for the victims here so that is something that it needed because many of the people who survived mister the -- homes are gone they're worried about. Other going to go forward there -- -- perhaps is gone and indicate there's so there's a lot of hardship and I respect that needs help but in terms of the recovery effort. There really is no quick any way to do it there is no British technology that could make it faster or easier. And that update that was -- from -- from the fire chief was just a couple of minutes ago when do we expect the next update. Respect the next update at 9 PM -- -- We need to get more numbers at the time of of the fatalities from the does however -- -- should caution that it and that. Blessed to -- retreated -- -- relevant number really haven't changed my expect it will how -- changed a little bit but. Dealing with a situation that is a bit of semantics state they will only release the number of dead as. -- confirmed once they've gone through -- corner office so we know they found at least another eight bodies. But they don't count votes in the seventeen. That are officially. Listed are dead end and that doesn't really know where tort speaking to -- ninety missing. A lot of people pushing for release of the names of these nine you're missing thinking they get -- -- in the newspaper and television and I applaud. Can help eliminate some of these people because people -- -- on that -- and call him. They -- consulting. With their legal team frankly the county here in significant release. Callista and I need to try to help eliminate summoned let out a lot of confusion about what exactly the scope of this it. Has there been frustration of the people that -- been speaking there that there is that the frustration level has grown because I know initially when this happened. That there were so many conflicting reports about the number of those missing and now almost a week later. It seems there's still seems to be that that that problem out there of not really having a full grasp on those that are are missing or have been accounted for. They're rich frustration I think a lot of it probably pretty honest comes from from the media I think people who were involved in this. Largely have a sense -- it. At this point and I should -- that having been to unfortunately a lot of disasters and places rather than mass casualties but very different by -- your. In Carrington for instance were a lot of these people from if you were to remove all of the media and the excess -- fire and emergency vehicles and then walked in the town. You'd be hard pressed to really know that there -- a tragedy down the road you do not see an outpouring of flowers and memorials and not sort of spank or sign. For the missing that you -- and in many communities that say these people aren't greeting makes certainly are but they're doing it there way -- their way. Is to really just with their own sort of grim determination get in the air -- entry care -- business -- tightening around. And Berry amendment and moving on -- -- -- just dirty street people and stoic. In many ways. It's interstate outside someone here today there is a grocery store and -- which don't even really struck. Or a lot of people congregated -- restore on the bulletin board -- -- Waukegan. Where you might post an item for sale or in this case post -- missing persons -- at exactly two. Missing person flyers only two and -- not hurt -- missing dog. Which is really quite something considering the numbers that they're putting out here so I think what that speaks to is that the people who -- reliving it. Know exactly going out and they're trying to get him there on their opponent they -- ABC's Neal Karlinsky on the front lines of those deadly Washington. Mudslides -- thank you for that of course you can stay up today in real time with the latest on that story -- downloading ABC news -- and starring that story. For now I'm Dan -- in New York with this ABC news digital special report.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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