The death toll from a devastating mudslide in Washington state climbed to 24 on Tuesday as rescuers recovered two more bodies and believed they had located eight more, the local fire chief said, while scores of people remained listed as missing.
As many as 176 people were still missing on Tuesday night, three days after a mudslide hit a village near the town of Oso in the north-western state, heightening fears that the casualty toll would grow well beyond the confirmed deaths.
Emergency management officials expressed doubt that anyone else would be found alive in the mass of mud that engulfed dozens of homes when a rain-soaked hillside gave way on Saturday morning.
The disaster already ranks as one of the deadliest landslides in recent US history.
Eight people were also injured.
Meanwhile, concern lingered about flooding from water backing up behind a crude dam of mud and rubble dumped into a river by the slide.
“The situation is very grim,” said Travis Hots, Snohomish County District 21 Fire Chief. “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 haven’t found anybody alive on this pile since Saturday in the initial stages of our operation.”
More than 100 properties were hit by the cascading mud, 49 of which were homes, John Pennington, director of the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management, told reporters on Monday. At least 25 of those homes were believed to have been occupied year round, and 10 others were part-time or vacation homes, Pennington said.
The search for victims continued Monday and Tuesday after treacherous quicksand-like conditions forced rescue workers to suspend their efforts at dusk on Sunday. Some workers, mired in mud up to their armpits, had to be dragged to safety.
The potential number of victims in harm’s way was higher on a Saturday, with many people at home, than on a weekday when more residents would have been at work or school, Pennington said. He added that search teams were also trying to account for an unspecified number of construction workers who were in the area and motorists who were driving by at the time.
The slide in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains along, in an area about 55 miles (90 km) northeast of Seattle, piled mud, boulders and rubble up to 15 feet (5 m) deep in some places.
The slide blocked the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, which is continuing to back up, officials said. Authorities said on Monday that at least seven homes are now flooded, and more flooding is expected.
Frequent, heavy rain and steep geography make the area prone to landslides. Less than a decade ago, another slide hit in the same general area.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-03-25