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Thursday, October 27, 2016

By Jack Broom, The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — The brother of one of the two people still missing in the Washington state mudslide said he understands and accepts Snohomish County officials’ decision to greatly scale back the search.

“The amazing thing is that of 43 people who were lost, 41 were found,” said Frank Hadaway of Puyallup, one of three brothers of Steve Hadaway, of Darrington.

“So do I have an issue? No. Reality is reality,” Frank Hadaway said. “We knew this day was coming sooner or later.”

Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary on Monday said the county has ended the “active search” for the victims of the March 22 mudslide that killed at least 41 people and covered Highway 530 near Oso.

It was a difficult decision, Trenary said, but the search will now be made as weather conditions allow and where evidence indicates the remains of the last two missing people — Hadaway, 53, and Kris Regelbrugge, 44 — might be. Regelbrugge was home and Hadaway was doing work at a house when the slide struck.

Operationally, that means the search effort that drew 900 to 1,000 people each day at its height is down to about 30, Trenary said. More searchers could return if specific evidence is found indicating a victim might be nearby.

Monday’s announcement also means that most of the workers from various offices and agencies supporting the search will be sent back to their regular assignments.

Asked if the decision to cut back the search was accepted by the families of Hadaway and Regelbrugge, Trenary would say only that he has talked to a number of victims’ families since the slide occurred, and will not discuss those conversations.

Calls by The Seattle Times to relatives of Regelbrugge on Monday were not returned.

Recent wet weather has complicated the search and increased danger to searchers, Trenary said.

The sheriff acknowledged there is a possibility the final two bodies will not be recovered. However, he stressed the search will continue, far more limited in scope and manpower. “We’re now at a smaller scale … searching a much smaller area,” Trenary said.

He said deciding to scale back the search was difficult because “we know Kris (Regelbrugge) and Steve (Hadaway)’s families are both looking for closure.” Hadaway’s body is believed to be in a deep pool that will need to be drained before further searching is practical, Trenary said.

The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office has identified the remains of all 41 slide victims it has received.

As debris removal continues, spotters in the field will work alongside heavy-equipment operators to identify personal property. An active search could resume if conditions change, allowing access to areas that were previously inaccessible, according to a news release.

Also Monday, Snohomish County Executive John Lovick said the county and state are working to set up an independent commission to review actions taken — and not taken — in the slide area before and after the slide.

The review presumably will examine whether the county took adequate steps to warn residents after previous slides, and if the response to the disaster proceeded as quickly as it should have.

In addition, the county will open a long-term recovery center in Darrington this week to offer services to those affected by the slide. Gary Haakenson, the county’s executive director for public safety, will lead the multifaceted recovery effort.

Haakenson said that work will focus on eight key themes for recovery: economic, housing, health, community planning, infrastructure, natural/cultural, social, and Highway 530 itself.

In the slide, a mammoth stretch of hillside fell near Oso, between Arlington and Darrington, and spread across the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, covering houses and a stretch of the highway. President Barack Obama, who viewed the slide area last week, announced $7.5 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help Snohomish County with the disaster’s costs.

A “primitive” one-lane road around the Highway 530 slide area was to open at midnight Monday, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

The two-mile route is intended for local residents, although drivers will not need to show ID.

Vehicles will travel behind pilot cars, and no stops will be allowed. State troopers will be stationed on each end of the restricted section.

Travis Phelps, Transportation Department spokesman, said caravans will be led through the area in the westbound direction every hour on the hour, and eastbound every hour on the half-hour.

The roadway, which has been used by Seattle City Light crews, is part dirt, part gravel and has some asphalt sections. It runs south of the debris field east of Oso. The road will be open 24 hours a day, but logging trucks will only be allowed through between 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Phelps said the state is studying what it will take to open Highway 530, but no target date to reopen is set. He said it’s not yet known how much work is needed to clear and repair the road and make the route safe.

Lindsey Wasson/Seattle Times/MCT