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Mourners gather to remember victims of Washington mudslide

By Reuters
Saturday, April 5, 2014 15:09 EDT
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Local residents attend a community prayer service at the Haller Middle School in Arlington, Washington, April 4, 2014. About 30 people have been confirmed dead from the mudslide, which roared over the north fork of the Stillaguamish River and state Highway 530, engulfing about three dozen homes on the outskirts of the rural town of Oso in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Another 17 remain listed as missing. REUTERS/Marcus Yam/Pool (UNITED STATES - Tags: DISASTER RELIGION)
 
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DARRINGTON, Washington (Reuters) – Mourners were set to gather on Saturday to remember two women killed in Washington state’s mudslide, in the first of a series of memorial events for the more than two dozen dead, even as the search continues for more victims.

A funeral for school custodian Summer Raffo, 36, will take place in Arlington, a town only a few miles from the site where a torrent of mud swept her car off Highway 530 on March 22. Her brother later pulled her body from the vehicle.

Another service is planned in nearby Darrington for retired librarian Linda McPherson, 69, who was found dead in the debris of her home. Her husband, also there at the time, survived when the mudslide engulfed the dwelling along with about three dozen other properties on the outskirts of the community of Oso, which lies in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains northeast of Seattle.

So far, 30 people have been confirmed dead by the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s office, and recovery crews are still searching for another 13 people still unaccounted for, according to county officials.

Over the next few days, funerals are planned for 5-year-old Kaylee Spillers, whose father and two siblings are among the dead and missing, and Alan Bejvl, 21, whose fiancé, Delaney Webb, was also killed in the slide.

Recovery efforts have been hampered by rain creating treacherous conditions and raising the risk of further slides and flash floods. More rain and runoffs of melting mountain snow are forecast.

A team of volunteer veterinarians are starting rotating shifts on Saturday to tend to the rescue dogs that have been deployed to help in the search for more victims.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture said it is deploying its “Reserve Veterinary Corps” for the first time. The group of 135 animal health specialists will treat dogs for minor cuts, hyperthermia and damaged pads, as well as decontaminate them after exposure to hazardous material and other pollutants in the debris field.

County officials are also organizing a “reunification” location and process where survivors would be able to go to retrieve personal property recovered from the disaster site.

(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in Darrington, Washington; and Carey Gillam; Writing by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle and Carey Gillam; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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