Washington landslide death toll doubles to 8

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 23, 2014 at 11:47 pm •  Published: March 23, 2014
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ARLINGTON, Wash. (AP) — Searchers found five 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.

Snohomish County sheriff's Lt. Rob Palmer said four more bodies were discovered late Sunday. Earlier in the day, authorities said one body had been found on the debris field. Three people were already confirmed dead on Saturday.

More people remained missing, and authorities said the number was "fluid." Earlier Sunday, they said it was at least 18, but that count came before additional bodies were discovered.

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

Crews were able to get to the muddy, tree-strewn area after geologists flew over in a helicopter and determined it was safe enough for emergency responders and technical rescue personnel to search for possible survivors, Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said Sunday evening.

"We didn't see or hear any signs of life out there today," he said, adding that they did not search the entire debris field, only drier areas safe to traverse.

Despite that, Hots said crews were still in a "search and rescue mode. It has not gone to a recovery mode at this time."

Searchers continued looking into the night Sunday.

Before crews could get onto the debris field late Sunday morning, they looked for signs of life by helicopter. Authorities initially said it was too dangerous to send rescuers out on foot.

Rescuers' hopes of finding more survivors were buoyed late Saturday when they heard people yelling for help, but they were unable to reach anyone. The soupy mud was so thick and deep that searchers had to turn back.

"We have this huge square-mile mudflow that's basically like quicksand," Hots said Sunday.

The slide wiped through what neighbors described as a former fishing village of small homes — some nearly 100 years old.

As the search for the missing continued, authorities said some may have been able to get out on their own. The number unaccounted for could change because some people may have been in cars and on roads when the slide hit just before 11 a.m. Saturday, Hots said.

Officials described the mudslide as "a big wall of mud and debris." It blocked about a mile of State Route 530 near the town of Oso, about 55 miles north of Seattle. It was reported to be about 15 feet deep in some areas.

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