By Jonathan Kaminsky
OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) – More than 100 missing-persons reports have been filed with various agencies in Washington state in the aftermath of a mudslide in which eight deaths have been confirmed, county officials said on Monday.
The landslide was triggered after rain-soaked embankments along State Route 530 near Oso, Washington, about 55 miles northeast of Seattle, gave way on Saturday morning, washing away at least six homes.
In all, at least 49 homes had some level of 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 conditions 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 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.
Pennington said that number was likely to decline as survivors initially reported as missing eventually make contact with loved ones and local authorities, or as some reports turn out to overlap with others.
But authorities cast growing doubt on the chances of finding anyone else alive in the tangle of debris and mud that is up to 15 feet 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.”
Washington state Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen has declared a state of emergency in Snohomish County.
(Additional reporting and writing by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Missouri; Editing by Eric Walsh and Gareth Jones)