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14 dead in Washington mudslide; search continues

By Phuong Le

Associated Press

Published: Monday, March 24 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

"If we found a dog alive yesterday afternoon that we cut out of a part of a house, doesn't that seem that maybe somebody could be stuck up under part of a house and be alive too?" asked Young, whose home survived the slide but was on the edge of the devastation.

Authorities believe Saturday's slide was caused by recent heavy rains that made the terrain unstable.

From the beginning, rescue crews on the ground have faced dangerous and unpredictable conditions as they navigated quicksand-like mud that was 15 feet deep in some places. Some who went in got caught up to their armpits in the thick, sticky sludge.

The threat of potential flash floods or another landslide also loomed over rescuers. On Monday, some crews had to pull back because of concern that a hillside could shift. Snohomish County Public Workers Director Steve Thomsen said geologists checked the area and decided that "right now it's stable."

Retired firefighter Gail Moffett, who lives in Oso, said she knows about 25 people who are missing, including entire families with young children.

"It's safe to say I'll know everyone affected or who they are," Moffett said. "There's so much pain going on in the community right now."

Among the injured were a mother and her baby. Amanda Skorjanc, 25, was in satisfactory condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, spokeswoman Susan Gregg said. Her son, 22-week-old Duke Suddarth, remained in critical condition and was improving, Gregg said. Three other men were in serious condition.

The spirits of search-and-rescue teams were raised late Saturday when they heard cries for help from the flotsam of trees, dirt and shattered wood. But no one else has been found alive.

The slide blocked the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, which is continuing to back up, officials said. Authorities said Monday 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.

On Monday, President Barack Obama declared an emergency, ordering federal aid for the struggling community and federal agencies to coordinate relief efforts.

Barbara Welsh went to Monday's news briefing in Arlington to get more information. She said she has not seen her husband, William Welsh, since Saturday, when he went to help someone in Oso with a water tank.

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

"It's a very close-knit community," Blacker said as he waited at an Arlington roadblock before troopers let him through.

Le reported from Seattle.

Associated Press writers Lisa Baumann in Arlington and Donna Gordon Blankinship in Seattle contributed to this report.

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