Wash. mudslide search grows, 108 listed as missing
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
OSO, Wash. (AP) — Authorities say the death toll from a massive landslide in Washington state has risen to 14.
Snohomish County sheriff’s spokeswoman Shari Ireton said Monday search and rescue crews discovered an additional six bodies. Dozens of people remained unaccounted for.
The huge wall of mud and debris swept through a small community north of Seattle late Saturday morning.
About two dozen homes were destroyed, and several people were critically injured.
In a race to find loved ones, family members and neighbors used chain saws and their bare hands to pick through wreckage that was tangled by the mud into piles of filthy debris.
Authorities are looking for more than 100 people who had not been heard from since the disaster. They predicted that the number of missing would decline as more people are found to be safe. But the startling initial length of the list added to the anxieties two days after a mile-wide layer of soft earth crashed onto a cluster of river valley homes.
“The situation is very grim,” Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said, stressing authorities are still in rescue mode and are holding out hope. But he noted: “We have not found anyone alive ... since Saturday.”
Some 30 houses were destroyed, and debris blocked a mile-long stretch of highway about 55 miles northeast of Seattle.
Cory Kuntz and several volunteers worked Monday with chain saws to cut through the roof of his uncle’s house, which was swept about 150 yards from its location. Kuntz said his aunt, Linda McPherson, was killed. He and the others pulled out files, his aunt’s wallet and a box filled with pictures and slides.
“When you look at it, you just kind of go in shock, and you kind of go numb,” he said, adding that there were more people out helping Sunday. On Monday, they couldn’t get through roadblocks.
Doug Reuwsaat, who grew up in the area and was also helping in the search, said authorities had told people to stay away.
“We’re related to a lot of these people from around here. So that’s why we’re here,” he said.
The mudslide struck Saturday morning, a time when most people are at home. Of the 49 structures in the neighborhood, authorities believe at least 25 were full-time residences.
Frustrations were growing as family members and neighbors waited for official word on the missing and the dead. Elaine Young and her neighbors uncovered several bodies Sunday and had to contact authorities to get them removed.
From the beginning, rescue crews on the ground have faced dangerous and unpredictable conditions as they navigated quicksand-like mud and debris that was 15 feet deep in some places. Some who went in got caught up to their armpits in the thick, sticky sludge.
The threat of potential flash floods or another landslide also loomed over rescuers. On Monday, some crews had to pull back because of concern that a hillside could shift.
Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington said the list of 108 names included construction workers in the area and people just driving by.
“It’s a soft 108,” Pennington said, explaining that the number would almost certainly fall as people are slowly located.
The slide blocked the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, which is continuing to back up.
t, officials said. Authorities said Monday at least seven homes are now flooded, and more flooding is expected.
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