April 2nd, 2014
08:26 AM ET

Landslide Toll Rises as Searchers Battle Muck, Standing Water

Among the mounds of mud and ripped-down trees, you see an occasional appliance, a tire here and there, the twisted cables that used to be part of the telephone system. What you don't see are homes.

They are gone. And it is difficult to even figure out where they once stood and what became of them.

The sheer force of a landslide on March 22 pulverized this neighborhood in rural Washington, leaving behind a graveyard in the debris where 28 bodies have been recovered and where crews painstakingly search for people who are listed as missing.

On that awful Saturday, a rain-saturated hillside along the north fork of the Stillaguamish River gave way, sending a square-mile rush of wet earth and rock into the outskirts of the town of Oso in Washington's North Cascade Mountains.

Since then, rescuers have trudged through the muck - 70 feet thick in some places - looking for bodies, though some cling to hope someone might be found alive even 10 days later.

Tough, nasty, dangerous conditions

About 600 people, including more than 100 volunteers, and cadaver dogs are involved in the search, officials have said.

The debris field is full of toxic sludge - a combination of human waste, toxic chemicals from households, propane tanks, oil and gas that make the search extremely dangerous, according to Lt. Richard Burke of the Bellevue Fire Department, who is the spokesman for efforts on the western side of the mile-wide slide.

Every person, animal and thing that comes out of the field has to be decontaminated.

Some of the workers have come down with dysentery, while supervisors are concerned that others may be at risk for tetanus.

Some of the areas in the search zone are too unstable for crews to work there. It would be like working in quicksand, Burke said.

It smells of sewage, but more than a week after the slide, it's not a strong odor, and the dogs, who can detect humans 10 feet under the surface, are undeterred.

Two of the nine dogs involved in Monday's search were suffering the effects of hypothermia, the coordinators of the landslide recovery teams said in a statement on the Snohomish County website.

Some of the volunteers are aiding in the recovery of family mementos from the debris.

The sounds of chainsaws fill the air, as do the rumbling motors of the excavating equipment, which grabs large objects like trees and moves them to the side. Then other people move in for a hand search or a visual inspection of a plot. Orange ribbons mark the grid, indicating areas that have been checked, while some indicate a find of interest.

Boards are placed over the thick slop, making a wooden path for workers to walk.

One of the biggest challenges has been standing water, but warmer temperatures and a lack of rain have helped workers, who are running pumps all day long to drain areas of the debris field.

Areas that were submerged 24 hours prior were able to be searched on Tuesday.

Two U.S. flags fly among the men and women working in the field. One, recovered from the debris, hangs in remembrance of lives lost. The other is at half-staff on the lone tree left standing in this part of the slide zone.

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March 12th, 2014
07:44 AM ET

Crowdsourcing Volunteers Comb Satellite Photos For Malaysia Airlines Jet

You - the person now reading this story - can help experts solve the mystery of what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared over the open sea.

In fact, thousands of aspiring good Samaritans are volunteering their time to scour part of the plane's search zone using detailed satellite images posted online by DigitalGlobe, a Colorado firm that owns one of the world's most advanced commercial satellite networks.

So many volunteers have joined the effort that the firm's website - with its pinpoint pictures of everything floating in the ocean - has crashed.

It is a busy week for "crowdsourcing," the Internet phenomenon where information is gathered from John and Jane Q. Public - people like you - and from your social media postings.

"This is a real needle-in-the-haystack problem, except the haystack is in the middle of the ocean," Luke Barrington of DigitalGlobe told CNN affiliate KMGH. "I will ask you to mark anything that looks interesting, any signs of wreckage or life rafts."

DigitalGlobe's satellite photos taken 400 miles above the Gulf of Thailand can capture a detail as small as a home plate. The challenge is finding the manpower to scour 1,235 square miles of such images on one of DigitalGlobe's websites, Tomnod.com - with more pictures to be posted this week from satellites above the Strait of Malacca, said Abby Van Uum, an Edelman publicist retained by DigitalGlobe.

That's where crowdsourcing comes in.

"In many cases, the areas covered are so large, or the things we're looking for are so hard to find, that without the help of hundreds of thousands of people online, we'd never be able to find them," Barrington said.

One volunteer, Mike Seberger, 43, found a fascinating image in a matter of minutes: the silhouette in the ocean has the scale of a Boeing 777-200, the same model of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

For more, visit CNN.com.

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Filed under: News • Videos • World News