Lindsey Wasson/The Seattle Times/AP

‘No signs of life’ after Wash. mudslide kills at least eight

At least 18 still missing as officials blame quicksand-like mud and debris conditions for stalling search

Rescue crews continued to search Sunday for survivors from a massive mudslide in Washington state that killed at least eight people. At least a dozen people remain missing.

The landslide of mud, trees and rocks happened at about 11 a.m. Saturday. Several people — including an infant — were critically injured, and about 30 houses were destroyed.

A spokesman for the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office said a total of eight bodies had been found in the square mile of tangled debris, rocks, trees and mud by nightfall Sunday.

Voices of people crying for help in the wreckage of the mudslide have stopped, and hopes of finding any more survivors waned as searchers pulled more bodies from the tangled debris field and crews worked through the night into Monday.

Search and rescue teams took to the air in helicopters and the ground on foot on Sunday looking for anyone who might still be alive. Their spirits had been raised late Saturday night when they heard the cries for help from the flotsam of trees, dirt and wreckage. Dangerous conditions forced them to turn back in the darkness, but they resumed their work at first light Sunday.

"We didn't see or hear any signs of life out there today," Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said. "It's very disappointing to all emergency responders on scene."

Meanwhile, 18 people remain unaccounted for after the landslide destroyed at least six homes and tumbled across a state highway, leaving a layer of mud and debris 15 to 20 feet deep in some places, said Shari Ireton, spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office. The AP reported mud as deep as 60 feet.

She said it is unclear if the missing people are trapped or have simply not reported their whereabouts.

The slide occurred as rain-soaked embankments along State Route 530 near Oso, north of Seattle, gave way. The area covered by the slide is estimated at half a mile wide, Ireton said.

Officials said at least eight people were injured. A six-month-old boy and an 81-year-old man remained in critical condition Sunday morning at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg said two men, ages 37 and 58, were in serious condition.

Bruce Blacker, who lives just west of the slide, doesn’t know the whereabouts of six neighbors.

“It’s a very close-knit community. They’re all our neighbors,” he said as he was waiting to talk with Washington State Patrol at an Arlington roadblock before troopers let him through. Almost 20 homes in the neighborhood were destroyed, he said. “I’m hoping for the best.” 

The American Red Cross has set up at the hospital, and an evacuation shelter was created at Post Middle School in Arlington.

The slide, in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, has blocked the Stillaguamish River, causing flooding behind a dam of debris and mud that could give way, Ireton said.

“We have a serious potential situation, should that be breached,” she said.

The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch for Snohomish County through Sunday afternoon. People who live in the North Fork’s flood plain, from the small communities of Oso to Stanwood, were urged to evacuate to higher ground.

Helicopters, earthmovers, fire rescue vehicles and other equipment are being used in the search, officials said. The highway was closed in both directions. Authorities said that because of the quicksand-like mud, it was too dangerous to send rescuers into the stricken area.

Hots said at a news briefing that authorities suspect “people are out there, but it’s far too dangerous to get responders out there on that mudflow.”

Wire services

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