One hundred and eight people are still missing or unaccounted for after a devastating mudslide swept through a former fishing village in Snohomish County, Wash., authorities confirm. Rescuers continuing to search through the ruins have so far recovered eight bodies, and fear the death toll is likely to rise.
The 20-foot-high wall of mud, a square mile in size, obliterated a state highway and dammed the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River. It destroyed about 30 houses and carried another, with people inside, clear across a road. NPR reports that an estimated 1 million cubic yards of soil have filled the river valley 50 miles north of Seattle where rescue operations are underway. Fifteen feet deep in spots, it’s “basically like quicksand,” said Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots.
Officials say that recent heavy rainfall, which made the ground unstable, was likely responsible for the landslide. An evacuation order has been lifted after some water began to make its way through the clogged river, but the National Weather Service has a flash flood watch in place for Snohomish County through Monday afternoon.
The Seattle Times has more on the rescue efforts:
John Pennington, who heads the county’s Department of Emergency Management, quickly added that the reports are vague and insists the number of victims will not be nearly that large. He called “108 ”a soft number.”
Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said “the situation is very grim.”
“We are still holding out hope we are going to find people alive. We are still in a rescue mode,” Hots added.
Today’s operation at the site will include the use of aircraft, search dogs and technical teams to “probe the ground.”
Sen. Maria Cantwell, speaking at the same Arlington news conference as Hots and Pennington, said FEMA and other federal agencies are ready to assist as well.
Going into detail about the slide site, Pennington said there are 59 vacant lots in the slide area, another 49 lots had some sort of structure — meaning a house, a cabin or some type of possible dwelling. Of all of the structures, 25 were likely occupied full-time.