ARLINGTON, Washington (AP)
Voices of people crying for help in the wreckage of a deadly mudslide in rural Washington state have stopped, and hopes of finding any more survivors waned as searchers pulled more bodies from the tangled debris field and crews worked through the night into Monday.
At least eight people were killed in the 1-square-mile (2.6-square kilometer) slide that hit just before 11 a.m. Saturday, destroying about 30 homes.
Search and rescue 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 night when they heard the cries 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,” Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said. “It’s very disappointing to all emergency responders on scene.”
Snohomish County sheriff’s Lt. Rob Palmer said four more bodies were discovered late Sunday, and people were missing. Authorities said the number of missing was fluid. Earlier Sunday, they said it was at least 18, but that count came before additional bodies were discovered.
Several people were also critically injured, including an infant.
The slide wiped through what neighbors described as a former fishing village of small homes – some nearly 100 years old.
Officials described the mudslide as “a big wall of mud and debris.” It blocked about a mile (1.6 kilometers) of a state road near the town of Oso, about 55 miles (89 kilometers) north of Seattle. Both frequent, heavy rainfall and geography make this area of Washington prone to landslides. Less than a decade ago, another significant slide hit in the same general area. Geologists and other experts said the Stillaguamish River likely caused some erosion in the area that was carved by glaciers.
Authorities believe Saturday’s slide was caused by ground made unstable by recent heavy rainfall.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee described the scene as “a square mile of total devastation” after flying over the disaster area midday Sunday. He assured families that everything was being done to find their missing loved ones.
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 workers were at the scene.
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.
(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)