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Death toll climbs to 14 following massive mudslide

Search teams found six more bodies in the mudslide Monday. Commanders are still calling their mission a rescue effort, but say the situation is grim. (KIRO Radio/Brandi Kruse)
  • Snohomish County reports six more bodies found in mudslide; death toll at 14
  • Number of people reported missing grows to 176, but officials confident death toll to be much lower
  • Officials ask that missing loved ones be reported to the Snohomish County call center, (425) 388-5088, even if they’ve reported that person missing to a different entity.
  • Survivors of the mudslide have been asked to also call the Snohomish County call center at (425) 388-5088 so that they may be accounted for.

Search and rescue teams have found six more bodies, bringing the death toll to 14 following Saturday’s massive mudslide in Oso.

Officials said late Monday afternoon they have now received 176 reports of missing persons in the 1-square mile mudslide, but reiterated that number represents individual reports, and the number of actually missing or deceased people is expected to drop significantly because many of those reports are likely to be duplicates, said John Pennington, director of emergency management for Snohomish County.

Snohomish County has established a single phone number for reports. He asked that even if someone has already made a missing persons report, but didn’t make that report to Snohomish County, they call (425) 388-5088, to report that person missing again.

Officials also asked that those who escaped the mudslide area or those who had homes in the area, also call the number so they may also be accounted for.

Pennington credits the number with helping gather information Monday.

“It’s exactly what we were looking for which was information and data,” he said.

Search and rescue effort

While Monday’s search includes aircraft, dogs and heavy equipment, Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Shari Ireton said they had to pull back personnel directly near the remaining hillside for fear of a second mudslide.

“Geologists are on the ground assessing the area,” said Ireton in a Monday afternoon briefing.

Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said crews were faced with significant challenges working in the area, with some rescuers saying it was taking five minutes to slog just 40-50 feet through the muck.

“It’s muddy, in areas it’s like quick sand. The debris field is like big berms of clay and quicksand.”

And Hots says crews that had hoped to find any sings of survivors came up empty.

“I’m very disappointed to tell you we didn’t find any sign of any survivors and we found no survivors today.”

Crews are expected to work throughout the evening, and additional resources including a specialized National Guard search and extraction team are slated to arrive on the scene Tuesday to aid in what Hots admits is now predominately a recovery, rather than rescue, effort.

Pennington says the federal government has issued an emergency declaration, paving the way for a myriad of assistance from FEMA and other agencies as well.

While the search area remains perilous, A number of people continued their ownsearch for their loved ones throughout the day.

“There are a couple dozen people here tearing through debris at a house right now. We’re being told we shouldn’t be here because the hillside is unstable, but we’re still here. We’re persevering because that’s what my sister would have done for me,” said Dayn Brunner.

Federal aid

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee told KIRO Radio a FEMA incident command team is coming in to relieve some of the local searchers who have been working around the clock. He said they’re also bringing in an urban search and rescue team with federal support in an effort to keep the mission moving at the same active pace.

“People fatigue eventually, so it’s good to have some federal forces to step in…we appreciate this quick response,” said Gov. Inslee. “We want a full time, aggressive effort and that’s what we’re getting.”

Injured in the slide

The 1-square-mile slide also critically injured several people — including an infant.

A 5-month-old boy and an 81-year-old man remained in critical condition in the intensive care unit Monday afternoon at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg said two men, ages 37 and 58, were in serious condition, while 25-year-old Amanda Skorjanc, the infant’s mother, remained in satisfactory condition.

The slide has destroyed at least 30 homes.

Pennington said that after examining the property records for the area, they determined 59 empty lots were impacted. Also in the 1-square-mile area, 49 parcels of land had “some structures” on them, including one cabin, 13 manufactured homes, 35 homes – 25 of which were believed to have been occupied at the time of the mudslide, and 10 were part-time or vacation homes.

Describing the scene

Officials described the mudslide as “a big wall of mud and debris.” Authorities believe the slide was caused by ground made unstable by recent heavy rainfall.

Gov. 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. With the water pooling behind the debris, authorities worried about downstream flooding and issued an evacuation notice Saturday. The water had begun to seep through the blockage Sunday afternoon, alleviating some concerns.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for Snohomish County through Tuesday afternoon.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Cover art courtesy Central Pierce Fire & Rescue

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