Search continues for victims of Snohomish County’s fatal mudslide
A fatal wall of mud buried homes and SR 530 near Oso, WA. Credit: WSDOT
Sixteen people are confirmed dead, and 176 remain unaccounted for in the wake of the mudslide that buried a stretch of SR 530 near Oso, WA on Saturday morning. Paulo Falcao, who was driving on 530 when the hillside came down, told the Everett Herald, "I just saw the darkness coming across the road. Everything was gone in three seconds."
Search and rescue operations are ongoing in the two affected neighborhoods along the north fork of the Stillaguamish River. “It’s much worse than everyone’s been saying,” one volunteer firefighter told The Seattle Times. “The slide is about a mile wide. Entire neighborhoods are just gone. When the slide hit the river, it was like a tsunami.” Officials have not released the names of people confirmed dead and missing.
The Washington State Patrol and the Washington Department of Transportation have been providing geological assessments and aerial surveys of the area to assist the search efforts. "The situation is very grim," said Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots. But, he added, “we are still holding out hope we are going to find people alive. We are still in a rescue mode.” Officials have been using dogs in their search for survivors.
The slide threatens flash floods as far downstream as Stanwood. Credit: Snohomish County
The square-mile of mud and debris that collapsed across the roadway on Saturday morning dammed the Stillaguamish and demolished or damaged some 50 homes. Search and rescue efforts continue to be hampered by the instability of the terrain around the slide, which Hots likened to "quicksand."
The condition of the mud, reportedly 60 feet deep in places, forced officials to abandon search efforts late Saturday, despite hearing cries for help. Geologists say the mudslide is still moving and rainy weather in the days ahead will make the area more unstable and treacherous. (The Herald of Everett has a photo gallery of the scene.)
Snohomish County Emergency Management director John Pennington told USA Today that he still has hopes of finding survivors of last Saturday's mudslide near Oso. "I've said it before — I believe in miracles," Pennington told the paper. "I believe that people can survive these events." Pennington also noted that a 1.1 magnitude earthquake had been recorded 100 yards behind the mudslide area on March 10, but scientists don't believe the small quake had anything to do with the hillside collapse.
“The devastation is just unrelenting and awesome," said Gov. Jay Inslee, after flying over the slide area. "There is no stick standing in the path of the slide.” But, he added, “there is another powerful force of nature, and that is empathy and compassion.”
President Obama signed an emergency declaration on Monday, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, speaking at a press conference in Arlington, assured residents that FEMA and other federal agencies were ready to help.