Published On: Tue, Mar 25th, 2014

Mudslide in Washington State

Mudslide in Washington StateThe death toll from a devastating weekend mudslide in Washington state climbed to 14 people on Monday as six more bodies were found, while the number reported missing continued to swell two days after the tragedy, authorities said.

As many as 176 people were reported missing in the massive landslide, and local emergency management officials expressed doubt anyone else would be plucked alive from the muck that engulfed dozens of homes when a rain-soaked hillside near Oso, Washington, collapsed on Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, concern lingered about flooding from water backing up behind a crude dam of mud and rubble dumped into the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River by the slide in an area along State Route 530, about 55 miles (90 km) northeast of Seattle.

“The situation is very grim,” said Travis Hots, the local fire chief. “We’re still holding out hope that we’re going to be able to find people that may still be alive. But keep in mind we haven’t found anybody alive on this pile since Saturday in the initial stages of our operation.”

President Barack Obama, who was in Europe on Monday for a meeting with world leaders, signed an emergency declaration ordering U.S. government assistance to supplement state and local relief efforts in the aftermath of the mudslide and flooding, the White House said.

Several dozen homes were believed to have sustained some damage from the slide, John Pennington, director of the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management, told reporters at a command post in the nearby town of Arlington.

More than 100 properties were hit by the cascading mud, 49 of which had a house, cabin or mobile home on them, Pennington said. At least 25 of those homes were believed to have been occupied year round.

“I’m pissed off I’m losing my house. I mean I hate to lose it. I’ve been working on it for 15 years,” said 73-year-old Dennis Hargrave, who drove up from Kirkland, near Seattle, to learn what he could of his vacation home.

“But that’s not my concern. My concern is, are my neighbors still alive? Is anybody surviving this?” he said.

Rescuers using dogs, earth-moving equipment and aircraft searched under partly cloudy skies on Monday after treacherous quicksand-like conditions forced rescue workers to suspend their efforts at dusk on Sunday. Some workers, mired in mud up to their armpits, had to be dragged to safety.

No one was pulled out alive on Monday from the disaster scene, in an operation that has been stymied by treacherous conditions, with gasoline and other contaminants strewn across the muddy debris field, Hots said.

The compressed mud filling some homes is like concrete, and it can take up to an hour to dig out four buckets of the stuff, he said.

Members of a search team were forced again to briefly retreat on Monday from the western edge of the slide area after movement was detected along a 1,500-foot (460-meter) stretch of earth, said Rebecca Hover, a spokeswoman for the county executive’s office.

Authorities on Monday also reported a sharp jump in the number of people listed as unaccounted for in the chaos after the disaster, heightening fears the casualty toll could climb even higher. Eight people were injured in the landslide.

The number of people missing had been listed at 18 or more on Sunday, before jumping on Monday first to as many as 108 and then as high as 176, although Pennington said some reports were vague and could involve overlap.

The operation is moving into a recovery phase, instead of a search for survivors.

“Most of us … believe that we will not find any individuals alive,” Pennington said, although he said he did expect the number of missing to drop dramatically as those unaccounted for are tracked down and the chaos subsides.

A 22-week-old infant injured in the slide remained in critical condition on Monday at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, after being taken there by helicopter along with his mother who also was hurt, said hospital spokesman Brian Donohue.

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Mudslide in Washington State