Washington Holds Moment of Silence as Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 27; Search Continues for 90 Missing

Exactly a week after Washington witnessed its deadliest natural disaster in nearly a century, communities observed a moment of silence Saturday even as the death toll from the mudslide rose to 27 amid an ongoing search for over 90 still missing. Christians are among relief providers.

(Photo: REUTERS/Rick Wilking)Snohomish County Fire Chief Steve Mason (L) talks with a chaplain near the mudslide near Oso, Washington as efforts continued to find victims March 26, 2014.

More than 100 firefighters and volunteers in Oso in Snohomish County also came to a standstill briefly at 10:37 a.m. on Saturday for a moment of silence. A slide of dirt, trees, rocks and other debris – estimated to be a mile long – destroyed homes about 55 miles north of Seattle at 10:37 a.m. on March 22.

One of the volunteers and an army veteran, Bret Cunningham, prayed for the families. "That we continue to find them, hopefully find some alive, that God be with the ones that are grieving and that have survived," he told Los Angeles Times.

"You see kids' stuff and you can't help but wonder what happened to that child," Cunningham said. "We've been to Iraq and Afghanistan and seen some horrific things, but it's something else to see this happen to your own community."

The office of Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee had urged residents across the state "to join him in this moment of silence as a show of respect for those who have died and a gesture of comfort for those who grieve."

Recalling what happened on March 22, a resident of Oso, LoAnna Langton, told The Washington Post she saw the mountain move. It roared, shook and tossed aside about a 100 trees at a time, she described. Then she saw an avalanche of mud and rock moving fast toward her back door. "I just knew we were going to die," she said, adding how she gathered the children and hugged them close. However, Langton was luckier than many, as the mudslide miraculously stopped in her back yard just yards away from them.

However, not all could escape. The unofficial body count rose to 27 Friday after one more body was found, and 90 people were still listed as missing, according to Reuters.

"I know that every Washingtonian holds in their heart the people of the Stillaguamish Valley and we all wish we could ease their pain," the governor said.

"The number is so big and it's so negative. It's hard to grasp," a 66-year-old volunteer, Bob Michajla, told Reuters. "These are all friends and neighbors and family. Everybody knows everybody in this valley."

Officials have indicated the toll could further rise dramatically as the grim task of combing through debris carries on.

At a briefing Friday, Gary Haakenson, Snohomish County's executive director, said, "It's a very, very slow process. It was miserable to begin with ... and it's rained heavily the last few days. It's made the quicksand even worse. I cannot possibly tell you how long this will last or when, or if, they will find more bodies. We hope that we do. But now, there's no telling."

Groups are providing aid for victims. Among them is the Va.-based Christian agency, Operation Blessing International, which has a team partnering with the only church in Oso to provide relief to families in need.

OBI has donated communications equipment, including laptop computers, wifi and pre-paid cellphones, to enable residents to keep in touch with their families in spite of downed communication lines and blocked roads in the area, the group says on its website.

OBI staff are also helping the church with assessing the damage and developing a plan to meet the needs of the community. "Operation Blessing is also providing enough funds for the church to begin distributing food and other relief supplies to families whose homes were damaged or destroyed."

The group has urged people to "continue to pray for families in Washington who have lost loved ones and precious belongings in this tragedy."