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News Wrap: Rescue teams use dogs, sonar to search for those left trapped in Washington mudslide

March 26, 2014 at 6:02 PM EST
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GWEN IFILL: The numbers kept climbing today in that devastating mudslide in Washington State. At least two dozen people are now believed dead, with officials adding to the count every evening. Scores more are missing.

Jeffrey Brown reports on today’s developments.

JEFFREY BROWN: Day five since the disaster found search teams still digging. They have been using everything from cadaver dogs to small bulldozers, and even sonar. Rain had made the already muddy debris even harder to dig and more dangerous.

TRAVIS HOTS, Snohomish County Fire District 21: It’s slow-going. It could take you about five minutes to walk 40 feet. And then you have got nails sticking out of the ground and things that can hurt you.

JEFFREY BROWN: With conditions better today, the teams worked on, holding out faint hopes of finding survivors, along with more bodies. How many more remained an open question. The Snohomish County emergency management director said, in some cases, all they have is a first name and an age.

JOHN PENNINGTON, Emergency Management Director, Snohomish County, Washington: We’re still dealing with the John Does vs. John 58s, and we’re reconciling them, but we’re making great progress.

JEFFREY BROWN: The people of Arlington faced a different task, reconciling themselves to all they have lost.

GARRETT FARNES: There’s areas where there’s no houses and just mud, and they don’t have, like, dogs searching those areas. And I’m sorry.

MAN: That’s OK. You really…

JEFFREY BROWN: Some gathered Tuesday evening to mourn the victims, and pray for the missing.

ROBERT HERNANDEZ: We’re here to support those who have fallen and hope that some lives are still recovered.

JEFFREY BROWN: Even those leading the search struggled with questions of whether the disaster was preventable in an area known for past mudslides.

JOHN PENNINGTON: It haunts me because that’s not — we did everything that we could have done, and the community did feel safe. They understood that risk. And we were — I think — I think we did what we could do. Sometimes, large slides happen.

JEFFREY BROWN: The National Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and others have now joined the operation.

As for survivors and their neighbors, there’s little to do but wait to find out who else will have to grieve.

GWEN IFILL: President Obama urged the nations of Europe today to rededicate themselves to freedom. He used a speech in Brussels to lay out a broad case against Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and he said it’s a moment of testing for the world. We will hear excerpts of the speech, and a report by Margaret Warner from Ukraine, after the news summary.

New claims of misconduct have hit the Secret Service. The agency confirms three agents were recalled from the Netherlands the day before the president arrived on his current trip. It was widely reported today that one of the agents was found drunk in a hotel hallway. The Secret Service implemented stricter rules after a prostitution scandal in 2012.

In Egypt, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced he’s resigned from the military and will run for president next month. He led the army move that ousted former Islamist President Mohammed Morsi last summer. Meanwhile, the government ordered two more mass trials of 919 Morsi supporters. More than 500 others were sentenced to death this week, and another 680 are on trial.

Governments, families and investigators alike may have their best lead yet in the hunt for the missing Malaysian jetliner. It came today as officials announced a French satellite spotted a possible full-scale debris field in the Southern Indian Ocean.

We have a report from Lucy Watson of Independent Television, based in Beijing.

DATUK SERI HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, Transport Minister, Malaysia: These are the visual images and the white dots were the debris.

LUCY WATSON: We have seen images like these before, but not so many, 122 potential objects now spotted by French satellites.

DATUK SERI HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN: Some objects were a meter in length. Others were as much as 23 meters in length. Some of the objects appear to be bright, possibly indicating solid material.

LUCY WATSON, ITN: Possibly, he said, yet again a word of caution. But the evidence is now building. The search is now focused 1,550 miles off the coast of Perth. It’s a 622,000-square-mile stretch. And that part of the ocean has depths of 23,000 feet, with complex terrain and undersea volcanoes.

So, from first light, those search efforts must begin, every day, trying to hone in on the truth.

We have witnessed extremes of emotion over the past 19 days, particularly here in China. But today, Malaysian officials came to talk to relatives and have somewhat more compassion and sensitivity toward them, even admitting, yes, we have made mistakes, and that had a calming effect on the relatives. That, combined with the now multiple possible sightings by French satellites, there seems to be more of a resignation and acceptance now of their loss.

MAN: I wish that we could find the aircraft with your family members still inside.

LUCY WATSON: And that official Malaysian sentiment relayed to relatives in Beijing today is shared by those there desperate for definitive proof.

GWEN IFILL: A federal jury in New York convicted Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law today of conspiring to kill Americans. Suleiman Abu Ghaith acted as chief al-Qaida spokesman. He was featured in videos used to recruit new followers after the 9/11 attacks. Abu Ghaith is the most senior member of al-Qaida to be tried on U.S. soil since then. He could receive life in prison.

An Oklahoma judge has voided the state’s death penalty law because it bars disclosures about lethal injections. The judge ruled that provision renders the entire statute unconstitutional. Two death row inmates brought suit, demanding to know the source of the drugs that will be used in their executions.

Americans who say they’re unable to sign up for health coverage by March 31 are getting more time. The Obama administration said today it would allow people already in the process of enrolling until April 15 to finish signing up. But they don’t have to provide proof of their prior intentions.

That waiver drew scorn from House Speaker John Boehner and other Republicans.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, Speaker of the House: The administration is now resorting to an honor system to enforce it. What the hell is this, a joke? The law says that enrollment stops at the end of March. That’s what the law says. I have got to live by the law. You have got to live by the law. Other people have to live by the law. And guess what? The president needs to live by the law as well.

GWEN IFILL: Democrats dismissed Boehner’s criticism. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said House Republicans don’t care about fixing health care, only about voting again and again to repeal the law.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev., Majority Leader: And the joke, I say to my dear friend John Boehner, is him for having more than 60 votes over there to terminate Obamacare. This is — and I just think that we are at a point now where it really does appear to be extremely disingenuous, that they oppose anything that’s good about Obamacare.

GWEN IFILL: The administration is hoping for six million people to enroll through the federal exchange.

Officials on both sides of the country were caught up in public corruption cases today. The mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, Patrick Cannon, was arrested on charges of taking nearly $50,000 in bribes. And in San Francisco, FBI agents arrested California State Senator Leland Yee and searched his office in the state capitol. It’s part of a separate corruption probe.

A ruling in Chicago today could let college athletes join unions. The regional office of the National Labor Relations Board found football players at Northwestern University qualify as employees. That makes them eligible to unionize. Players behind the suit want guaranteed medical coverage and commercial deals. We will explore this in detail later in the program.

Nissan is recalling a million — nearly a million vehicles because of potentially faulty air bags. Affected models include the Altima, Leaf, Pathfinder, and Sentra from the model years 2013 and 2014. Nissan says computer software may fail to detect someone sitting in the passenger seat, so the air bag won’t inflate.

The Wall Street — Wall Street fell back today. The Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 99 points to close just under 16,269. The Nasdaq fell 60 points to close at 4,173. And the S&P 500 dropped 13 points to finish at 1,852.