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Death toll in Washington mudslide hits 39

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April 16, 2014 05:22 PM EST | AP

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EVERETT, Wash. (AP) — The death toll from the massive mudslide that hit the Washington town of Oso last month has risen to 39, officials said Wednesday.

The Snohomish County medical examiner's office said it was identifying the three bodies most recently discovered and notifying families. They could be among those listed as missing, but that number remained at seven Wednesday, the Snohomish County sheriff's office said.

One body was found Monday and two were found Tuesday in the southeast corner of the debris field where the Corps of Engineers erected a berm last week, said Koshare Eagle, a spokeswoman for the incident management team.

The 2,000-foot gravel berm acts like a levee and allowed standing water to be pumped back into the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River so searchers could enter the area.

Searching the debris with dogs and recovering bodies continues to be the main job from the March 22 landslide that buried dozens of homes in the community about 55 miles northeast of Seattle.

Meanwhile, engineers are using GPS to map the area as the state Transportation Department makes plans to clear a mile-long stretch of highway that was covered with mud and trees up to 25 feet deep.

The slide blocks the direct route between Interstate 5 and the nearby town of Darrington. The Transportation Department held meetings in Darrington and Oso to talk with residents about the highway. A third meeting was scheduled for Wednesday evening in Arlington.

Transportation officials have said it might take one to three months to clear the highway, but it may be fall before repairs are made and the highway reopens.