The search for survivors of a deadly Washington state mudslide grew Monday to include 108 names of people who were reported missing or were unaccounted for, but authorities cautioned the figure would likely decline dramatically.
Still, the size of the list raised concerns the death toll would rise far above the eight people who have been confirmed dead after the 1-square-mile slide Saturday swept through part of a former fishing village about 55 miles northeast of Seattle. Several people also were critically injured. About 30 homes were destroyed, and the debris blocked a 1-mile stretch of state highway.
“The situation is very grim,” Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said, stressing that authorities are still in rescue mode and are holding out hope. But he noted: “We have not found anyone alive on this pile since Saturday.”
Adding to the worries was that the slide struck Saturday morning, a time of the weekend when most people are at home. Of the 49 structures in the neighborhood hit by the slide, authorities believe at least 25 were occupied full-time.
Snohomish County emergency management director John Pennington said the list of 108 names was pulled together from various sources that authorities are working from, and it doesn’t mean there are that many injuries or fatalities.
Among the possible missing are construction workers coming into the neighborhood and people just driving by.
“It’s a soft 108,” Pennington said.
Search and rescue teams took to the air in helicopters and the ground on foot on Sunday looking for anyone who might still be alive. Their spirits had been raised late Saturday night when they heard the cries for help from the flotsam of trees, dirt and wreckage.
Dangerous conditions forced them to turn back in the darkness.
Snohomish County sheriff’s Lt. Rob Palmer said four 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.
Crews were able to get to the soupy, tree-strewn area that was 15-feet deep in places Sunday 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, Hots said.
He added that they did not search the entire debris field, only drier areas safe to traverse.
Both frequent, heavy rainfall and geography make the area prone to landslides. Less than a decade ago, another slide hit in the same general area. Geologists and other experts said the Stillaguamish River likely caused some erosion in the area that was carved by glaciers.
Authorities believe Saturday’s slide was caused by ground made unstable by recent heavy rainfall.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee described the scene as “a square mile of total devastation” after flying over the disaster area midday Sunday. He assured families that everything was being done to find their missing loved ones.
The slide blocked the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, raising fears for a time of downstream flooding Saturday. But the water began to seep through the blockage Sunday, alleviating some concerns.
Bruce Blacker, who lives just west of the slide, doesn’t know the whereabouts of six neighbors. “It’s a very close-knit community,” Blacker said as he waited at an Arlington roadblock before troopers let him through.
Search-and-rescue help came from around the region, including the Washington State Patrol and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Dane Williams, 30, who lives a few miles from the mudslide, spent Saturday night at a Red Cross shelter at the Arlington school. He said he saw a few “pretty distraught” people at the shelter who didn’t know the fate of loved ones who live in the disaster area.
“It makes me want to cry,” Williams said.