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More bodies found in US landslide debris

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-24

Rescuers found a further four bodies in the debris of a Washington village destroyed by a landslide late on Sunday, raising the death toll to eight. Several people were injured in the mudslide and some 14 are still missing.

Four more bodies were discovered in the debris of about 30 destroyed homes, said Snohomish County sheriff’s Lieutenant Rob Palmer. Earlier in the day, authorities said one body had been found. Three people were already confirmed dead on Saturday.

Crews were able to begin their search and rescue operation after geologists flew over in a helicopter and determined it was safe enough for emergency responders and technical rescue personnel to search for possible survivors, said Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots.

Officials described the mudslide as “a big wall of mud and debris” about 60 feet (18 metres) deep in some areas.

“We didn’t see or hear any signs of life out there today,” Hots said.

Despite that, Hots said crews were still in a “search and rescue mode. It has not gone to a recovery mode at this time”. He said the search would continue until nightfall, when conditions would become too dangerous.

Several people, including a child, were critically injured when the mudslide hit the small riverside neighbourhood on Saturday morning about 55 miles (88 kilometres) north of Seattle.

As crews searched the quicksand-like mud below, concerns remained about a blocked river in the area that threatened to flood homes.

Rescuers’ hopes of finding more survivors had been buoyed late on Saturday when they heard people yelling for help from within the debris field, but they were unable to reach anyone. The mud was so thick and deep that searchers had to turn back.

“We have this huge square-mile mudflow that’s basically like quicksand, it’s extremely fluid,” Hots said.

Flood warning

The mudslide wiped through what neighbours described as a former fishing village of small homes – some nearly 100 years old. The neighbourhood “is not there anymore”, Hots said.

Some of the missing may have been able to get out on their own, authorities said. The number unaccounted for could change because some people may have been in cars and on roads when the slide hit, Hots said.

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

With the water rising rapidly behind the debris, authorities worried about downstream flooding and issued an evacuation notice on Saturday. The water had begun to seep through the blockage on Sunday afternoon.

John Pennington, director of Snohomish County Emergency Management Department, said there were concerns that the water could break downstream, as well as back up and flood areas upstream.

Shari Ireton, a spokeswoman for the Snohomish County sheriff’s office, said on Sunday that eight people were injured in the slide.

A six-month-old boy and an 81-year-old man remained in critical condition on Sunday morning at Harborview Medical Centre in Seattle. Hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg said two men, ages 37 and 58, were in a serious condition, and a 25-year-old woman was satisfactory.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

Date created : 2014-03-24