World Bulletin/News Desk
As many as 108 people were unaccounted for in Washington state two days after a deadly mudslide north of Seattle hit dozens of homes and killed at least eight people, county officials said on Monday.
Emergency management officials said they expected the tally of missing to dwindle sharply as many of the people initially unaccounted for following Saturday's slide turn up safe, but they expressed doubts about finding more survivors buried in the muck and debris.
The landslide was triggered after a rain-soaked hillside along State Route 530 near Oso, Washington, gave way on Saturday morning, washing away at least six homes in an area about 55 miles (90 km) northeast of Seattle.
In all, at least 49 homes had some damage from the slide, said John Pennington, director of the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management.
The search for victims resumed early on Monday after treacherous quicksand forced rescue workers to suspend their efforts at dusk on Sunday. Some workers, mired in mud up to their armpits, had to be dragged to safety.
A spokesman for the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office said eight bodies had been found by Sunday evening in the square-mile (2.6 square km) disaster zone of tangled debris, rocks, trees and mud. Another eight people were injured in the landslide.
On Sunday night, officials put the number of missing at 18 or more, but on Monday morning Pennington said various agencies had collected reports - some specific and others vague - of 108 people who remained unaccounted for after the disaster.
"The number is, I think no question, going to decline dramatically. But it is a number that we want to just go ahead and disclose and say, 'That's what we're working with,'" Pennington said.
DOUBT FOR FINDING MORE SURVIVORS
Authorities are hoping many of those turn out to be survivors who were either double-counted or slow in alerting loved ones and local officials as to their whereabouts.
The potential number of victims swallowed by the mudslide was higher on a Saturday, with many people at home, than it might have been on a weekday when more residents would have been at work or school, Pennington said. He also noted that an unspecified number of construction workers were in the area of the slide at the time.
Authorities cast growing doubt on the chances of finding anyone else alive in the debris and mud that is up to 15 feet (5 m) deep.
"The situation is very grim," said Travis Hots, Snohomish County District 21 Fire Chief. "We're still holding out hope that we're going to be able to find people that may still be alive. But keep in mind we haven't found anybody alive on this pile since Saturday in the initial stages of our operation."
Hots said Monday's search would incorporate the use of aircraft, teams with search dogs and special electronic equipment.
"Also, the Washington State Department of Transportation is going to have heavy equipment out there to clear mud out of the way so that we can continue to search those areas," he said.
Washington state Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen has declared a state of emergency in Snohomish County.Last Mod: 24 Mart 2014, 22:02