10 More Deaths Confirmed in Washington Mudslide
Ten more deaths have been confirmed in the massive Washington mudslide, bringing the total to 24, officials say.
Read more below, via FoxNews.com:
Two more fatalities were recovered Tuesday and another eight found but not yet recovered, in addition to the 14 deaths already reported, according to Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots.
The mudslide, which struck the town of Oso on Saturday morning, also resulted in as many as 176 missing person reports, but officials said they could not tell how many were duplicates.
Hots said earlier authorities offer their “deepest sympathies and condolences to the families affected by this disaster.”
There are 156 people in the field looking for anyone who may be trapped under rubble, Hots said, but rain forecast for Tuesday afternoon could hamper search efforts. A 50-member National Guard team is also en route to the area.
Earlier in the day, officials looking to narrow the number of people unaccounted for said the operation is now shifting from a rescue effort to a recovery mission.
"I never lose faith and a lot of the people in this community will never lose faith, but there's a realism element that's entered in,” John Pennington, Snohomish County's director of emergency management, said Tuesday on NBC’s “Today” show, according to Reuters . "We have responded as well as we can, and we will continue to do that, but ... we are turning that very delicate corner in the recovery operation.”
Emergency responders and volunteers resumed searches Tuesday, but so far have not been able to locate anyone who still may be trapped under the rubble.
A 22-week-old baby injured in the mudslide remained in critical condition Tuesday, Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center said. His mother was also among the injured.
Late Monday, authorities announced that the official death toll had increased to 14 after searchers discovered six more bodies in the rubble.
The main focus of the search operations has been to pin down the exact number of people unaccounted for after the disaster. Pennington told reporters late Monday that officials were working off a potential list of 176 people, but he stressed that authorities believed that included many duplicate names.
"I believe very strongly  is not a number we're going to see in fatalities," Pennington said. "I believe it's going to drop dramatically." However, other authorities said they have not been able to determine whether there were multiple calls about the same missing person.
The 1-square-mile mudslide struck Saturday morning. Authorities have described the search for additional survivors to be "grim" as crews battle uneven ground and rising waters. Monday’s search included specially trained dogs, firefighters, law enforcement, aircraft and search-and-rescue teams. Heavy equipment from the Washington State Department of Transportation helped to move trees, boulders and earth.
“Most of us in these communities do not believe we'll find anyone alive,” Pennington said Monday, but then added, "I'm a man of faith and I believe in miracles."
Authorities believe that the mudslide destroyed 35 homes, as well as 13 manufactured homes, including RVs, and at least one cabin. Part of the difficulty in determining the exact number of missing people comes from authorities not knowing how many of the homes, some of which are kept for vacationing visitors, were occupied at the time of the slide. Authorities also believe some nonresidents may have been working in the area, while some victims may have been passing through in their cars on nearby State Highway 530.
Another obstacle has been the chaotic nature of the debris field itself. In some places, the ground is covered by 15 feet of rubble.
"It's muddy in areas, it's like quicksand," said Hots. "One of the folks out there told me, 'Chief, sometimes it takes five minutes to walk 40 or 50 feet.'" Searchers are also running into gasoline and septic discharge and dealing with ground that geologists warn remains unstable. Authorities believe the slide was caused by ground made unstable by recent heavy rainfall.
Ed Hrivnak, who was co-piloting an aircraft that was first to arrive at the scene Saturday, said a lot of the houses weren't buried. When they got hit, "the houses exploded." He said cars were crushed into little pieces, their tires the only signs that they had been vehicles.
He said he saw people so thoroughly covered in mud that searchers could only spot them by the whites of their waving palms. His helicopter rescued eight people, including a 4-year-old boy, who was up to his knees in concrete-like compressed mud.
The mud was so sticky, the rescuers were worried about getting stuck so the helicopter hovered about a foot away and the crew chief tried to pull him out. "He was suctioned in that mud so much that his pants came off," Hrivnak said.
The boy was taken to a hospital and was reunited with his mom. Hrivnak said the boy's father and three siblings are still missing.
Friends and families immediately launched their own rescue missions.
Elaine Young and her husband, Don, picking their way through the devastation, heard tapping, a steady beat. They got closer and realized it was coming from their neighbors' buckled home.
Trapped in an air pocket, Gary "Mac" McPherson, 78, was banging away for help with a loose stick. The Youngs managed to pull him out, but family members said his wife, Linda McPherson, 69, a former librarian and school board member, did not survive.
Chainsaws buzzed as friends and families cut toppled houses open on Monday. Buddy, a large chocolate Labrador, was pulled muddy and cut from under the ruins Sunday after a house was searched. His owner has not been found.
Gail Moffett, a retired firefighter who lives in Oso and works at the hardware store in Arlington, said she knows about 25 people who are missing. Among them, Moffett said, were entire families, including people with young children.
Moffett said some of the people who are missing were working in the area Saturday morning.
"There's so much pain going on in the community right now," she said.
President Barack Obama Tuesday asked Americans to send their thoughts and prayers to Washington state as search operations continue. He said first responders have acted bravely and people have come forward to help fellow citizens.
Obama says he's spoken with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and signed an emergency declaration for the state, adding that his administration is in ongoing contact with state officials.
Evacuation shelters were set up at Post Middle School in Arlington and the Darrington Community Center.