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Mudslide Search Dogs Take Break As Toll Rises
The death toll in the Washington state mudslide has risen to 21, as officials said they were giving rescue dogs a break after days of relentless searching in the rain.
The dogs can lose their sensing ability if overworked, officials said.
"The conditions on the slide field are difficult, so this is just a time to take care of the dogs," said Kris Rietmann, a spokeswoman for the one of the relief teams.
The March 22 mudslide buried the community of Oso, about 55 miles (90km) north of Seattle.
It is already one of the deadliest in US history, and at least 30 people people still missing.
The number of confirmed dead has increased from 18 to 21.
Fifteen of the victims have been identified by the Snohomish County medical examiner, and six have yet to be identified.
Meanwhile, the rains that have hampered efforts are expected to ease this week, but searchers face other challenges at the site like toxic contaminants and sewage.
Searchers have had to contend with treacherous conditions, including septic tanks, gasoline and propane containers.
When rescuers and dogs leave the site, they are hosed off by hazardous materials crews.
"We're worried about dysentery, we're worried about tetanus, we're worried about contamination," said Lieutenant Richard Burke of the Bellevue Fire Department.
"The last thing we want to do is take any of these contaminants out of here and take them into town."
Authorities have offered conflicting casualty figures, and the process of accounting for the number of dead has likely been complicated by the condition of some bodies that rescue workers have said are not always found intact.