8 Dead, 108 Unaccounted For After Washington State Mudslide

March 24, 2014

This post was updated at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Searchers pulled more bodies from a soupy mixture of muck and debris, bringing the death toll to eight, after a massive mudslide over the weekend smashed through a community in rural western Washington state.

In a news conference Monday morning (local time), Snohomish County emergency management director John Pennington said a consolidated list of missing an unaccounted for contained 108 names.

“It’s a soft 108,” he said and doesn’t mean there are that many injuries or fatalities.

Pennington said he anticipates the number will “decline dramatically” as officials work through the report.

He said some of the missing included construction workers coming into the neighborhood and people who happened to be driving by when the mudslide occurred on Saturday morning.

Pennington said authorities were still hopeful, but that “we have not found anyone alive on this pile since Saturday.”

He said at least 49 homes and other structures had been damaged or destroyed in the mudslide.

Tod Gates, an incident commander quoted by The Seattle Times, on Sunday as saying he and other rescuers had used helicopters to fly over the wreckage, where they spotted four bodies Sunday, adding to four others found the day before.

NPR’s Martin Kaste, reporting from Seattle, says an estimated 1 million cubic yards of soil clogged the narrow river valley east of Interstate 5 about 50 miles north of Seattle.

The new find dimmed hopes of finding anyone alive after a 20-foot wall of mud inundated neighborhoods near the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, destroying dozens of homes.

“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.”

On Sunday, officials said there were at least 18 people trapped in the mud. The Times says more casualties are likely, as the slide destroyed 30 or more homes and a mile-long stretch of Highway 530.

Officials think recent heavy rainfall made the ground unstable, triggering the mudslide.

KIRO TV reports:

“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.

” ‘There is a full scale, 100 percent aggressive rescue going on right now,’ said Inslee, who proclaimed a state of emergency.”

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