At least eight people were confirmed dead in a mudslide Sunday night after rescuers had reported “no signs of life” amid the square mile of destruction.
About 18 others remained unaccounted for, with officials warning that the number was fluid.
A slurry of mud and debris smashed across a highway and into rural homes just east of the town of Oso on Saturday, officials said. Voices could be heard in the debris field late Saturday, but rescuers had to back off because their own lives were in peril.
They were able to resume searching Sunday. By afternoon, they found their first body of the day, mired in mud. The remains were not expected to be recovered for “quite a bit of time,” Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots told reporters.
By evening, officials had raised the confirmed death toll to eight. Details were to be released later.
Although it’s common during the confusion after disasters for missing people to turn up safe, officials fear that the death toll from Saturday’s mudslide along the Stillaguamish River will continue to rise. “I get a sense we’re going to have some hard news here,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said at a Sunday afternoon news conference.
At least 12 victims were hospitalized Saturday — one of whom died — and seven remained hospitalized Sunday afternoon, including five in serious condition or worse, hospital officials told the Los Angeles Times.
One was a 6-month-old boy who was in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. He was the first victim flown from the disaster site.
“Basically the people were swept away, pinned up against things, covered,” Harborview spokeswoman Elizabeth Hunter told The Times, adding that most of the mudslide wounds were “crushing injuries.”
Rescuers resumed their searches by foot Sunday; officials had initially deemed the deluge of mud and debris too dangerous to wade into. Late Saturday, officials said, firefighters got stuck in mud up to their armpits and had to be rescued by rope.
SOURCE: Maria L. La Ganga and Matt Pearce
The Los Angeles Times