OLYMPIA, Wash. — As the search continues for survivors of a deadly mudslide in Washington state, the first steps in helping those affected have already begun.
Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a state of emergency that could bring in long-term federal money beyond the assistance President Barack Obama ordered to supplement local rescue efforts. Various groups are also collecting donations for victims of the disaster.
At least 16 people were killed and authorities believe an additional eight bodies were located. Scores more are missing and two dozen homes were destroyed in the landslide that swept through a rural area about 55 miles northeast of Seattle on Saturday.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., told her colleagues on the Senate floor Monday that "it's impossible to describe the scope of this devastation."
"In the coming weeks and months and even years, if that's what it takes, all of us need to stand with the people of Oso and Darrington and Arlington and provide the federal resources they're going to desperately need in this recovery and rebuilding operation," she said.
Here's where aid efforts stand:
FEDERAL AID: Inslee's weekend proclamation is the first step for potential state requests for federal assistance. On Monday, the president signed an emergency declaration that sends federal resources to bolster state and local response efforts. Inslee said that aid will include incident support and management teams and program specialists. The Federal Highway Administration will also provide $1 million to cover some of the costs associated with clearing a local highway the mudslide blocked.
Before additional federal money can be released to the state or affected homeowners, Washington's Emergency Management Division must work with the communities and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to do a preliminary damage assessment. The outcome of that assessment will determine whether Inslee will make a formal request for federal aid. But because of the danger that remains in the slide area, it may be a few days before that assessment can begin, officials said.
"We need to know there's a safe environment to do an inspection," said Sheryl Jardine, part of the disaster response team with the Emergency Management Division.
Jardine said the assessment should take a couple of days once it begins, after which the potential request would be formally made to FEMA. The federal agency would then make a recommendation to Obama, who has the final say on approval. The whole process could take a few days or a few weeks, Jardine said.
"It's too early in the process to know what's needed," Jardine said, and she warned that there's no guarantee that federal resources will be available to the victims.
"At this point, the assistance that is available to them is assistance being provided by the Red Cross and both faith-based and community organizations that are out in the communities trying to meet their immediate needs," she said.
INSURANCE COVERAGE: Stephanie Marquis, a spokeswoman for the state Office of the Insurance Commissioner says that the typical homeowner policy does not cover land movement, like landslides or mudslides, or flooding, unless purchased separately. Less than 5 percent of Washington state's homeowners have landslide coverage, which Marquis said can only be purchased from the outside market.
"There's a possibility that flood insurance could help, but it will likely vary on a case-by-case basis," Marquis said in an email.
She said the state agency can help homeowners if there's a discrepancy in their policy and can alert them to resources if they lack coverage. People can call 800-562-6900 or go to the office's website at http://www.insurance.wa.gov .Comment on this story
RED CROSS: American Red Cross workers have been providing food and shelter to residents, families looking for loved ones and first responders affected by the slide. Red Cross spokesman Larry Fortmuller said the organization has established two shelters, one in Darrington and the other in Arlington, and that they have acted as a meeting place for families. He said more than two dozen people spent the night at the Arlington shelter on Monday night. The Red Cross is also taking donations. People can call 800-733-2767 to donate or text "RedCross" to 90999 and $10 will be charged to their phone bill.
ADDITIONAL ASSISTANCE: The city of Arlington posted on its website that a disaster relief account for slide victims has been set up at the downtown Union Bank through Cascade Valley Hospital Health Foundation. Donations to that account can also be made online at http://bit.ly/1gvmxiC . Also, the Washington state Combined Fund Drive has launched a special campaign to help victims: http://www.cfd.wa.gov/cfd/Mudslide-Relief-Campaign.aspx .