March 31, 2014 -- The search dogs that have been working through mud and rain to find victims of the Washington landslide are being given a two-day break to recover from exhaustion and keep their senses sharp.
The canine heroes and their human companions have been trudging through the deep mud and have been working in grueling conditions that have been exacerbated by cold and rain.
Kris Rietmann, a spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Transportation who has been deployed to the scene of the March 22 mudslide, said the dogs can lose their sensing abilities if they are overworked.
"The conditions on the slide field are difficult, so this is just a time to take care of the dogs," she told the Associated Press.
Dogs that arrived more recently from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will continue working while the local canine team gets some rest, she said.
The Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office said at a news conference on Sunday that the death toll has risen to 21 confirmed fatalities. Of those, 15 have been identified and six are pending identification.
The search and recovery process has been painstakingly slow, as authorities announced on Sunday that crews have cleared 450 feet of the total 6,000 feet of Highway 530 that is buried beneath mud and debris.
Using information from satellite scans, authorities estimated the debris field ranges in height from 15 to 75 feet.