The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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April 3, 2014

Death toll in Washington mudslide rises to 30

(Continued)

EVERETT, Wash. —

WHY DOES IT TAKE SO LONG TO IDENTIFY BODIES?

The process for identifying remains, some of which are partial, is careful work, especially when trauma is involved, Thiersch said.

"This isn't going into a room and saying, 'This is him,'" he said.

Efforts to identify using dental work, fingerprints or tattoos, can take time and if that doesn't work, officials turn to DNA testing. But that works best in cases in which a close family member can give a sample for comparison. They've only needed to use DNA testing to identify one of the slide victims. At the same time, detectives are working to help determine identities by using information from families, social media accounts and belongings from the site.

HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE WORKING THERE? WHAT DO THEY DO?

The regular staff of about 12 at the Snohomish County Medical Examiner's office has been supported with dozens of professionals from King, Pierce, Skagit and Kitsap counties and members of the Air National Guard. Medical examiners are working with pathologists, dentists and medical investigators to clean bodies, take fingerprints, and note tattoos or other distinguishing features. Detectives and other professionals do online research and call families to determine the identities of the victims.

HOW DO WORKERS COPE IN THESE SITUATIONS?

People working at the medical examiner's office are doing everything from calling family members to cleaning bodies and the stress takes a toll. On Wednesday, a therapy dog named Paddington comforted members of the Air National Guard and medical investigators.

A team of county mental health workers was expected to visit the office later this week to meet with workers one-on-one.

Medical examiner's office deputy director Dennis Peterson said staff has been so dedicated to the work that he's had to "kick them out" to force them to rest.

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