ARLINGTON, Wash. – Rescuers say that at least 18 people are missing in a mudslide that destroyed two neighborhoods along the north fork of the Stillaguamish River and that the potential for a catastrophic flash flood remains high.
Eight people were killed and at least eight others were injured when a rain-soaked hillside above state Highway 530 near Oso gave way Saturday morning. Travis Hots, chief of Snohomish County Fire Districts 21 and 22, said a square mile of mud and debris slid across the road, blocked the river and demolished or damaged up to 30 homes.
He said that the number of missing people is “fluid” and that there may have been vehicles on the road that were swept away that rescuers don’t yet know about.
“We suspect there are people out there, but it is far too dangerous to get the responders out to them,” Hots said.
Hots described an incredibly dangerous situation for the more than 100 rescuers who are trying to access buried structures and debris. The mud is still moving and has the consistency of quicksand. He said the scene overnight was eerie, with the sounds of breaking timber and moving debris.
Rescuers late Saturday failed to find people they heard yelling from a buried structures, Hots said. By the time they were able to negotiate the shifting mud and debris and get to the area, the voices had gone quiet, he said.
“There were signs of life in a buried structure. We were not able to get there, and when we were able to get close, they could not longer hear anything, so they backed out,” Hots said.
Hots described the scene Sunday as a “domino game” where the slide has set up a potential both for flooding downstream and upstream, as well, as the water continues to back up behind the massive mud flow.
One neighborhood “is not there anymore,” Hots said.
Officials believe that victims remain under the mud, but rescuers must move with caution.
Marcus Deyerin, a spokesman with the Northwest Washington Incident Management Team, said rescue crews are only able to enter the mudslide muck if aerial crews see evidence of survivors.