Dozens remain missing in Wash. mudslide

ARLINGTON, Wash. — More than 100 people remain missing after a massive mudslide that hit rural Snohomish County, emergency officials announced Monday at a news conference.

Searchers don't expect to find any more survivors from Saturday's massive mudslide that killed at least eight people.

"We're still in rescue mode at this time, but the situation is very grim," said Chief Travis Hots of Snohomish County Fire District 21. "We have not found anybody still alive on this pile since Saturday."

Teams took to the air in helicopters and the ground on foot Sunday looking for anyone who might still be alive. Their spirits had been raised late Saturday when they heard voices calling for help from the flotsam of trees, dirt and wreckage. Dangerous conditions forced them to turn back in the darkness, but they resumed their work at first light Sunday.

"We didn't see or hear any signs of life out there today," Hots said Sunday. "It's very disappointing to all emergency responders on scene." Sunrise on Monday was 6:59 a.m. PT; sunset will be at 7:27 p.m.

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Sheriff's Lt. Rob Palmer of Snohomish County said four more bodies were discovered late Sunday. Earlier in the day, authorities said one body had been found on the debris field. Three people already were confirmed dead Saturday.

The 1-square-mile slide also critically injured several people — including an infant — and destroyed about 30 homes. At least 18 people were considered missing Sunday.

The soupy, tree-strewn area has mud that is 15 feet deep in places. Crews were able to get there Sunday after geologists flew over in a helicopter and determined it was safe enough for emergency responders and technical rescue personnel to search for possible survivors, Hots said.

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Rescuers did not search the entire debris field, only drier areas safe to traverse. Hots said crews still were in a "search and rescue mode. It has not gone to a recovery mode at this time."

Before crews could get onto the debris field late Sunday morning, they looked for people by helicopter.

"We have this huge square-mile mudflow that's basically like quicksand," Hots said.

The slide wiped through what neighbors described as a former fishing village of small homes, some nearly 100 years old.

As the search for the missing continued, authorities said some may have been able to get out on their own. The number unaccounted for could change because some people may have been in cars and on roads when the slide hit just before 11 a.m. PT Saturday.

Officials described the slide as "a big wall of mud and debris." It blocked about a mile of Oregon 530 near the town of Oso, which has less than 200 residents about 55 miles north of Seattle.

Ground made unstable in recent heavy rainfall likely caused the slide, authorities say.

In the past 45 days, the area has had double its normal rainfall, at least 15 inches higher than normal, according to the National Weather Service. The area had a similar landslide in 2006, and erosion from the rain had caused the base of the previous slide to weaken.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee described the scene as "a square mile of total devastation" after flying over the disaster area Sunday. He assured families that everything was being done to find their missing loved ones.

The slide blocked the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River. The water pooling behind the debris, and authorities worried about downstream flooding, issueing an evacuation notice Saturday. The water had begun to seep through the blockage Sunday afternoon, alleviating some concerns.

Snohomish County officials said Sunday that residents could return home during daylight hours. Even though the evacuation order had been lifted, Inslee urged residents to remain alert.

Washington Department of Natural Resources geologists will use radar imagery Monday to determine the volume of the slide, which will help them see whether Oso residents remain in danger.

The weather service issued a flash flood watch for Snohomish County through Monday afternoon.

Shari Ireton, a spokeswoman for the Snohomish County sheriff's office, said Sunday that eight people were injured in the slide.

A 6-month-old boy and an 81-year-old man remained in critical condition Sunday at a Seattle hospital. Hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg of Harborview Medical Center said two men, ages 37 and 58, were in serious condition while a 25-year-old woman was upgraded to satisfactory condition.

Bruce Blacker, who lives just west of the slide, doesn't know the whereabouts of six neighbors.

"It's a very close-knit community," Blacker said as he waited at an Arlington roadblock before troopers let him through.

Search-and-rescue help came from around the region, including the Washington State Patrol and the Army Corps of Engineers. More than 100 were at the scene.

Dane Williams, 30, who lives a few miles from the mudslide, spent Saturday night at a Red Cross shelter at the Arlington school.

He said he saw a few "pretty distraught" people at the shelter who didn't know the fate of loved ones who live in the stricken area.

"It makes me want to cry," Williams said.

Hots said searchers would continue their efforts through the difficult debris field.

"There may be people in their cars, there may be people in houses," he said.

Contributing: Zahid Arab, KING-TV, Seattle-Tacoma, Wash; The Associated Press


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