8 confirmed dead in Washington mudslide

By Mike Carter, Alexa Vaughn and Mike Lindblom / The Seattle Times

ARLINGTON, Wash. — Eight people have been confirmed dead in the mile-long mudslide that swept through houses near Oso, Wash.

Officials announced the rising death toll during a community meeting in Darrington on Sunday night. Authorities earlier in the afternoon had confirmed four dead and at least 18 missing.

Hope for rescuing additional survivors in the mucky debris appeared to be fading, as search efforts earlier in the day turned up one body, but no survivors.

“We didn’t see or hear any signs of life out there today,” said Travis Hots, chief of Snohomish County Fire districts 21 and 22, during a Sunday afternoon news conference.

Hots said workers will continue to search for survivors until dusk Sunday, and the search would resume this morning.

Hundreds of family members awaited news of missing loved ones, with many fearing the worst.

“The anxiety of that is beyond description,” Gov. Jay Inslee said at a noon news conference in Arlington.

Rescuers reported hearing voices from buried buildings on Saturday evening. But by the time they made their way through the shifting mud, the voices had gone quiet.

In addition to the dead and missing, at least eight others were injured when a rain-soaked hillside above state Highway 530 east of Oso gave way Saturday morning.

The casualties are likely to rise as rescuers search through the mass of mud and wreckage that is all that remains of two neighborhoods along the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River.

Hots 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 the number of missing is “fluid” and that there may have been vehicles on the road that were swept away that rescuers don’t know about.

“We suspect there are people out there but it is far too dangerous to get the responders out to them,” Hots said during a media briefing outside the incident command center in Arlington.

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 in the dark.

The fast-moving wall of mud, trees and other debris swept through houses Saturday morning when a soggy hillside gave way. Some bystanders rushed in to try to aid those caught in the slide.

“We thought it was a car accident,” said Sierra Sansibar of Arlington, who said she was driving to Darrington when the road was blocked by the mud. “Then you realize there’s a house in the middle of the road.”