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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Lornet Turnbull and Jennifer Sullivan, The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — The man often called upon to deliver heartbreaking news to families of mudslide victims says some relatives hold out hope that their loved ones might still be pulled out alive from the rubble.

But 12 days after a massive hillside gave way and engulfed a riverside community near Oso, Larry Nickey knows an inescapable reality awaits them.

“We are trying to be as honest as we can with the families as we talk to them each night about what we find, “ said Nickey, incident commander for an interagency team working at the mudslide site from the Arlington side. “We have prepared the families and some are holding out hope, but most likely there will not be any survivors and we want that message out there.”

Rescue crews have not found anyone alive amid the mud, splintered trees and crushed homes since the first hours after the March 22 slide. The official death toll stood at 29 on Wednesday, with 13 listing as missing.

“We will continue searching. But we know the probability of finding anyone alive is almost nonexistent,” he said.

Survivors and others impacted by the mudslide received some good news on Wednesday when President Barack Obama declared it a major disaster, opening up extensive help, ranging from money to pay for temporary housing, making essential home repairs, replacing household items and providing child care. It also includes up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits for those who otherwise might not qualify.

Grants for temporary housing are capped at three months for homeowners; renters will get at least a month. The aid could be extended later by request.

In addition, low-cost loans of up to $200,000 from the Small Business Administration will be available for primary residences, and $40,000 for lost personal property. Small businesses can qualify for up to $2 million in loans.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also will provide counseling, help with income taxes and legal advice.

Those needing help can register online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362).

In addition, John Pennington, head of Snohomish County’s Office of Emergency Management, said two or three disaster-recovery centers will be set up around the county where people can seek assistance.

“I think my message is clear: Anyone impacted by this disaster really in any form up and down the 530 corridor, really should register with FEMA,” he said during a media briefing in Arlington. “If you don’t register for federal assistance, you can’t get federal assistance.”

Washington State University has offered to waive tuition for the coming academic year for any students affected by the Oso mudslide, and the University of Washington said it will also help with tuition costs.

WSU’s offer, extended by WSU President Elson Floyd in a letter to Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin, waives tuition for students whose permanent addresses are in Oso, Arlington or Darrington. The offer is good for the 2014-15 academic year.

WSU officials say they believe about 75 to 100 students could qualify for the waiver, including incoming freshmen and transfers.

WSU officials said they don’t yet know how many students would qualify. “These are very small communities, so we are not talking hundreds of students,” said spokeswoman Kathy Barnard in an email.

UW spokesman Norm Arkans said the UW will also help families affected by the slide, although the UW is not offering a blanket tuition waiver to Oso and Darrington students. Arkans said the university has emergency funds in place to help families affected by disasters, and that those who took a financial hit because of the slide should contact the UW’s financial-aid office.

Undergraduate, in-state tuition and fees for a year at WSU and the UW are about $12,000. Both universities said incoming freshmen would be included in the offer.

In the letter, Floyd also notes that WSU’s Snohomish County Extension office is helping with the evacuation and care of farm animals.

“Oso, Darrington and Snohomish County have been good neighbors to WSU,” Floyd wrote. “We will continue to build on that spirit through and beyond … this difficult time.”

Nickey, the incident commander, and his team have been at the mudslide site since last Thursday. They have responded to a host of other disasters across the country — wildfires, hurricanes, the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

He calls the tragedy that befell Oso “unprecedented.”

“We’ve never had a mudslide of this magnitude that has taken out that many homes and taken that many lives,” he said. “Nobody has ever done this (scale of rescue work) to my knowledge anywhere in the U.S.”

Searchers are trying to match human remains as well as cars, even household items like books, with the house they were in to determine the flow of the slide so they can better focus their search.

The cadaver-search dogs rescuers had been using to help find those remains are tired and are being spelled by a new group coming in from out of state. About 20 of them, he said, are set to arrive Thursday.

“We are looking for the deceased and those dogs are specially trained cadaver dogs with a good success ratio in helping to find human remains,” he said.

Remains that are recovered at the mudslide site on a daily basis are all sent to the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office, where staff has been working long hours identifying the dead and determine cause of death.

“We’ve not seen anything of this magnitude,” Dennis Peterson, deputy director of the medical examiner’s office, said Wednesday. “This has overwhelmed us.”

Investigators, as well as extra staff from King, Pierce and Skagit counties, and the Washington National Guard’s mass-casualty unit, carefully tend to each body with respect and compassion, officials said.

Upon arrival at the office, each person is wheeled into a large tent set up outside the office. Each person is washed in warm water to remove mud, debris and possible chemicals and other hazardous materials, Peterson said.

All 29 victims identified by the office died of some sort of “blunt-force trauma,” officials said. Five additional sets of remains have not been identified.

Sheriff’s Detective Brad Walvatne said that of the 29 victims identified, nearly all were identified by dental or X-ray records and two were identified through DNA.

Sheriff’s detectives working closely with the medical examiner’s office initially investigated tips that 531 may have been missing in the slide. Pointing to a spreadsheet on a large screen, Walvatne pointed out that they pared 489 people from that list.

Pierce County sheriff’s Sgt. Ed Troyer, who is acting as a spokesman for the Medical Examiner’s Office, said Wednesday that of the five people not identified, one may be a challenge. All they know is that the person is a man who has had extensive dental work with gold fillings in his mouth.

The set of remains does not fit with the description on the missing persons list.

They can’t even identify his age range. Without possible family members to compare, DNA tests are useless. At this point, gold teeth are all they have to go on.

“It’s a huge puzzle. You don’t want to get anything wrong,” Troyer said.

Marcus Yam/Seattle Times/MCT

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]