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Published: Monday, 3/24/2014 - Updated: 5 months ago

WASHINGTON STATE

Crews search for survivors of mudslide

With 8 dead, 18 missing, rescuers fear mounting toll

BLADE NEWS SERVICES
A demolished house sits in the mud on Highway 530, the day after a giant mudslide hurtled into homes, trees, and anything else in its way near Oso, Wash. A demolished house sits in the mud on Highway 530, the day after a giant mudslide hurtled into homes, trees, and anything else in its way near Oso, Wash.
SEATTLE TIMES Enlarge

ARLINGTON, Wash. — Searchers found four more bodies Sunday in the tangled sludge of a massive landslide in rural Washington state, bringing the death toll to at least eight from the wall of debris that swept through a small riverside neighborhood. At least 18 people are still believed missing.

“Mother Nature holds the cards here,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Sunday. He added that the devastation left behind by the Saturday mudslide into a cluster of rural homes along the Stillaguamish River, just east of the small town of Oso, “is just unrelenting and awesome — there really is no stick standing in the path of the slide.”

Chief Travis Hots of Snohomish County Fire District 21 said Sunday that crews reached the muddy, tree-strewn area after geologists flew over by helicopter and determined it was safe enough for emergency responders and technical rescue personnel to search.

So far, rescuers had been unable to find the source of voices heard among the mud and wreckage Saturday evening.

Still, Chiefs Hots said crews were in a “search-and-rescue mode. It has not gone to a recovery mode at this time.”

Some firefighters waded into a square-mile slurry of mud and became stuck up to their armpits, officials said. They were pulled out by rope.

“We have families across the state this moment who are wondering about their family members, and the anxiety of that is beyond description,” Mr. Inslee said. “Every human possibility is being explored here to rescue and find their loved ones.”

Seven people were rescued Saturday night.

Shari Ireton, a spokesman for the Snohomish County sheriff’s office, said eight people were hurt in the slide.

A 6-month-old boy and an 81-year-old man remained in critical condition Sunday at a Seattle hospital. A spokesman said two men were in serious condition.

Chief Hots said the search would continue until nightfall. “We have this huge square-mile mudflow that’s basically like quicksand.”

The 1-square-mile mudslide that struck Saturday morning critically injured several people and destroyed about 30 homes.

Among those missing are Reed Miller’s son, Joseph, 47, who is mentally ill, he said. Mr. Miller, 75, had been standing in the grocery-checkout line in Arlington on Saturday when ambulances screamed past.

“The grocery lady said there was a big mudslide in Oso and to call her back when I got home OK,” Mr. Miller said Sunday. “I never got there.”

Officials said up to 30 homes may have been affected by the mudslide; Mr. Miller’s home was among those damaged or destroyed.

A steady stream of people made their way to the shelter set up in Arlington.

Caroline Neal had come looking for word of her father, a 52-year-old plumber who was servicing a hot water tank for a woman in Oso.

The woman is now missing, as is the cable worker who was at her home too. And Ms. Neal’s father is nowhere to be found.

The mudslide, which has blocked a key rural highway as well as the Stillaguamish River, came after an unusually heavy month of rain.

With the water rising rapidly behind the debris, authorities worried about downstream flooding and issued an evacuation notice Saturday. The water had begun to seep through the blockage by Sunday afternoon.

Snohomish County officials said Sunday that residents could return home during daylight hours.

John Pennington, director of Snohomish County Emergency Management Department, said there were concerns that the water could break downstream, as well as back up and flood areas upstream. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for Snohomish County through today.

U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene said Darrington, about 12 miles east of the slide, has been “isolated” because the mud destroyed Highway 530, an important route for that community of 1,359 to reach the Pacific coast.

Mr. Inslee said it wasn’t known when that highway would be restored.

“There is literally not a vertical stick standing in that square mile” of mud, Mr. Inslee said. “Everything within that path has been leveled, and that is something I have certainly never seen before.”

Mr. Inslee’s office issued a declaration of emergency on Saturday night.



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