Death toll likely to rise after massive mudslide

DARRINGTON, Wash. — The death toll stood at 14 and was likely to rise Tuesday as search crews prepared to continue painstaking and dangerous search efforts at the scene of a massive mudslide that obliterated the tiny village of Oso on Saturday.

Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin thanked people for the outpouring of support Tuesday, adding that no additional volunteer help was needed.

John Pennington, Snohomish County Emergency Management director, said the county had 176 reports of missing people, but said many were probably duplicates.

"We're trying to whittle that down," he said.

President Obama signed an emergency declaration ordering federal aid to the area. The National Guard was on the scene.

"I would just ask all Americans to send their thoughts and prayers to Washington state," Obama said, speaking from the Nuclear Security Summit at The Hague, Netherlands.

The collapse followed weeks of heavy rain. Still, Pennington had described the disaster as "completely unforeseen." The Seattle Times, however, reported that multiple geological reports had warned that the area was at risk.

"No language seems more prescient than what appears in a 1999 report filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, warning of 'the potential for a large catastrophic failure,'" the Times reported.

Lynne Rodgers Miller, who wrote the report with her husband Daniel, told the Times that when she saw the news of the mudslide Saturday morning, she knew immediately where the land had given way.

"We've known it would happen at some point," he told newspaper. "We just didn't know when."

The landslide, which consumed a community of almost 50 homes, covers an 1-square mile area about 55 miles northeast of Seattle.

Eric Jonas of Lake Stevens was one of the people who showed up early Tuesday to lend a hand. That could include the discovery of more victims.

"I've never had to deal with anything like that before, but they need help," Jonas said. "There could be some people alive out there."

Hopes were dim, however, as the rain and muddy, unstable terrain continued to slow rescue and recovery efforts. Up to 4 inches of rain are possible over the next several days, which could further liquefy the earth bring the potential of flooding to the already battered area.

"Our crews are up against an enormous challenge. It's like quicksand out there," Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said.

Crews have to move extremely carefully as they work. "Some of my guys could only go 50 feet in five minutes," he said,because of the debris and danger of being sucked into the mud.

Search and rescue teams had to pull back Monday because of concern about the hillside moving, Pennington said. Gov. Jay Inslee assured area residents that were dozens of teams on the scene and more were coming.

"We should have additional search capabilities through the National Guard for our rescue and extraction efforts," Inslee said in a statement. "We will also have a boost in our incident command structure, and we will most probably have an additional urban search and rescue team to be on site."

"We've got earth-moving equipment and we've got lots of people with local knowledge of that specific area," said Hots. That has been helpful as they can point out homes that were not occupied so researchers could focus on areas where people might be trapped, he said.

Pennington paused when asked whether there might still be survivors.

"Most of us in these communities believe we will not find anyone alive," he said. "But I am a man of faith and I believe in miracles."


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