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Washington state mudslide death toll rises to 39

A worker looks on as search work continues in the mud and debris from a massive mudslide that struck Oso near Darrington, Washington April 2
A worker looks on as search work continues in the mud and debris from a massive mudslide that struck Oso near Darrington, Washington April 2

By Jonathan Kaminsky

OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) - The official death toll from a mudslide that devastated a neighborhood in the Cascade foothills of Washington state last month rose to 39 on Wednesday, after search teams pulled out two more bodies from the mud and rubble, local county officials said in a statement.

A rain-soaked hillside collapsed above the north fork of the Stillaguamish River on March 22, unleashing a torrent of mud that clogged the river, swallowed up a stretch of a state highway and crushed some three dozen homes on the outskirts of the tiny community of Oso, 55 miles northeast of Seattle.

Among the 39 confirmed dead, 36 have been positively identified, Snohomish County officials said in a statement. The death toll had stood at 37 on Tuesday.

Twenty of the dead are male and 16 female. They range in age from 4-month-old Sanoah Huestis, who died with her grandmother, to 91-year-old Bonnie Gullikson, whose husband was among those who escaped the disaster with injuries.

All the victims died of multiple blunt force injuries, according to the Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office.

Recovery crews were still searching for another seven people officially listed as missing.

Rescue teams have found no signs of life in the mud pile since the day of the disaster.

On Tuesday, a U.S. Army soldier who took leave to search for missing family members believed to have been buried in the muddy rubble was found dead of an apparent suicide, authorities said.

Specialist Christopher Dombroski, 20, was found in the Capitol State Forest just west of Olympia, just over 100 miles southwest of the mudslide, with what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound, said Thurston County Sheriff's Office Lieutenant Greg Elwin, a department spokesman.

Dombroski was the nephew of Steve and Theresa Harris, who are among the seven people listed as missing in the mudslide, said Lieutenant Colonel Joe Sowers, an Army spokesman.

(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in Olympia, Wash., Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis, Scott Malone and Gunna Dickson)

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