Search Effort Continues In Washington Mudslide

Mar 24, 2014

There are concerns that the number of deaths from a mudslide over the weekend in Washington state will climb far above the eight people who’ve been confirmed dead so far.

A 1-square-mile mudslide on Saturday swept through part of a former fishing village about 55 miles north of Seattle. The list of people who’ve been reported missing or who are unaccounted for contains 108 names — but authorities say that figure will probably decline dramatically.

In addition to those killed, several people were critically injured. About 30 homes were destroyed. The debris is blocking a 1-mile stretch of state highway.

The slide struck at 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.

Also possibly among the missing are construction workers coming into the neighborhood and people who were just driving by.

Authorities believe the slide was caused by ground that was made unstable by recent heavy rainfall.


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And we want to go now to Washington State, where there is now a list of 108 people who may - may - be missing after that massive mudslide Saturday. The slide killed at least eight and wiped out buildings in the town of Oso, 50 miles north of Seattle. At a press conference today, Snohomish County Fire Chief Travis Hots said there is still a search for survivors, but...

TRAVIS HOTS: The situation is very grim. 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 have not found anybody alive on this pile since Saturday.

YOUNG: Lisa Brooks is a reporter at HERE AND NOW contributing station KUOW in Seattle. Lisa, 108 people. Now, we're told this is a soft list. What does this mean?

LISA BROOKS, BYLINE: A soft list means that they have been collating a number of different lists that agencies and independent bloggers have been compiling, and so they have kind of been comparing and contrasting all of these lists. And so there may be someone named Frank on one list who's listed as Francis on another list, and they're not sure right now if that's the same person or if that's two separate people.

YOUNG: Right. Or somebody who knew a construction worker that may have been driving by at that time and hasn't been heard from but may turn out not to have been there at all. Do we know why this happened?

BROOKS: Well, this is the Northwest, and we get a lot of rain. And this has been an especially wet March, especially over the last few weekends. We were just saturated. And so there are geologists and climatologists who, at this point, are surmising that this was really just groundwater saturation from the heavy rainfall.

YOUNG: Well - and I'm sure people are worried about where it might happen next. And in addition to mudslides, the slide dumped a huge amount of debris in the Stillaguamish River, we understand. Here's Steve Thompson, director of public works for Snohomish County.

STEVE THOMPSON: The side debris that's laying in the bottom of the river, it's about a mile long, probably 1,000 feet wide, you know, probably an estimate of 15 million cubic yards of material. It's massive. I mean it's the biggest thing I have seen in the 30 years I've been working in this area.

YOUNG: So Lisa, that means that there's this huge thing in the river causing water to back up. What are the concerns there?

BROOKS: Well, the big concerns are flooding that is behind that wall of water. Now, one of the things that they are actually relieved about is that another channel has started to naturally form. But there's still a lot of water rising. In fact, I believe that John Pennington, who heads the county Department of Emergency Management, said there are seven homes that are completely flooded right now up to the eaves, he said, and that the waters there keep on rising. But they say - he said they're moving slowly so they're able to monitor that situation.

YOUNG: And very, very briefly, Lisa, it's a terrible thought, but we heard that people were crying. They heard voices crying for help...

BROOKS: They did hear a number of voices, but apparently those voices stopped after Sunday morning. So at this point we haven't heard any new reports of that.

YOUNG: Terrible. Lisa Brooks from HERE AND NOW contributing station KUOW there in Seattle. Thank you so much, Lisa.

BROOKS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.