Search dogs take break from Washington mudslide recovery
18 people confirmed dead and 30 still on missing list from last week's deadly mudslide
Rescue crews in Snohomish County said Sunday that many of the dogs that have been essential in the search for mudslide victims will take a two-day break.
Days of sniffing through cold, soupy mud and nearly nonstop rain have taken their toll on the animals, and officials say dogs can lose their sensing ability if they work too long.
Crews are still working to recover more victims from the soggy pile of mud that buried part of the small mountainside community of Oso in Washington state more than a week ago.
"The conditions on the slide field are difficult, so this is just a time to take care of the dogs," said Kris Rietmann, lead spokeswoman for the team working on the eastern portion of the slide.
Dogs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, more recent arrivals on the scene, will continue working, said Heidi Amrine, another spokeswoman for the operation.
Engineers were watching for any material sloughing off the landslide area, making sure that a weekend of torrential rainfall doesn't displace more land.
Searchers have had to contend with treacherous conditions, including septic tanks, gasoline and propane containers.
When rescuers and search dogs leave, they're hosed off by hazardous materials crews stationed at the edges of the debris field.
Authorities have said they have recovered more than two dozen bodies, but they won't be added to the official tally, which stood at 18 on Sunday, until formal identifications are made.
Underscoring the difficulty of identifying those killed in one of the deadliest landslides in U.S. history, officials said the search dogs are not always discovering complete remains.