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ARLINGTON, Wash. (AP) - Searchers found five more bodies Sunday in the tangled sludge of a massive landslide in rural Washington state, bringing the death toll to at least eight from the wall of debris that swept through a small riverside neighborhood.
Snohomish County sheriff's Lt. Rob Palmer said four more bodies were discovered late Sunday. Earlier in the day, authorities said one body had been found on the debris field. Three people were already confirmed dead on Saturday.
More people remained missing, and authorities said the number was "fluid." Earlier Sunday, they said it was at least 18, but that count came before additional bodies were discovered.
The 1-square-mile mudslide that struck Saturday morning also critically injured several people and destroyed about 30 homes.
Crews were able to get to the muddy, tree-strewn area 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, Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said Sunday evening.
"We didn't see or hear any signs of life out there today," he said, adding that they did not search the entire debris field, only drier areas safe to traverse.
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, at which time conditions become too dangerous.
Before crews could get onto the debris field late Sunday morning, they looked for signs of life by helicopter. Authorities initially said it was too dangerous to send rescuers out on foot.
Rescuers' hopes of finding more survivors were buoyed late Saturday when they heard people yelling for help, but they were unable to reach anyone. The soupy mud was so thick and deep that searchers had to turn back.
"We have this huge square-mile mudflow that's basically like quicksand," Hots said Sunday.
The slide wiped through what neighbors described as a former fishing village of small homes - some nearly 100 years old.
As the search for the missing continued, authorities said some may have been able to get out on their own. The number unaccounted for could change because some people may have been in cars and on roads when the slide hit just before 11 a.m. Saturday, Hots said.
Officials described the mudslide as "a big wall of mud and debris." It blocked about a mile of State Route 530 near the town of Oso, about 55 miles north of Seattle. It was reported to be about 15 feet deep in some areas.
Authorities believe the slide was caused by ground made unstable by recent heavy rainfall.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee described the scene as "a square mile of total devastation" after flying over the disaster area midday Sunday. He assured families that everything was being done to find their missing loved ones.
"There is a full scale, 100 percent aggressive rescue going on right now," said Inslee, who proclaimed a state of emergency.
The slide blocked the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River. With the water pooling behind the debris, authorities worried about downstream flooding and issued an evacuation notice Saturday. The water had begun to seep through the blockage Sunday afternoon, alleviating some concerns.
Snohomish County officials said Sunday that residents could return home during daylight hours. Even though the evacuation had been lifted, Inslee urged residents to remain alert.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for Snohomish County through Monday afternoon.
Shari Ireton, a spokeswoman for the Snohomish County sheriff's office, said Sunday that a total of eight people were injured in the slide.
A 6-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, while a 25-year-old woman was upgraded to satisfactory 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," Blacker said as he waited at an Arlington roadblock before troopers let him through. There were almost 20 homes in the neighborhood that was destroyed, he said.
Search-and-rescue help came from around the region, including the Washington State Patrol and the Army Corps of Engineers. More than 100 were at the scene.
Evacuation shelters were set up at Post Middle School in Arlington and the Darrington Community Center.
Dane Williams, 30, who lives a few miles from the mudslide, spent Saturday night at a Red Cross shelter at the Arlington school.
He said he saw a few "pretty distraught" people at the shelter who didn't know the fate of loved ones who live in the stricken area.
"It makes me want to cry," Williams said Sunday.
Perhaps there are areas where building should be prohibited to avoid the loss of life and property.
Lisa: you and I know that, but if there is a real estate penny to me made..... they will overlook unsafe areas.
With all of the attention that AOL has been paying to that mising Malaysian airliner, this is a story that I didn't hear about until just about two hours ago. I heard on the news that there are at least 18 people still missing and that the mud slide covers a one square mile area.As a nation, let us band together to help the people in Washington state who have been affected by this mud slide. Go to your church/synagogue/temple and ask to set up a donation station for those less fortunate than you and everyone else who worships with you. Then, once we all know of a central bank account that we can transfer the funds to, we transfer the money there for the STRICT purpose of helping those people.Let's not stand idly by.
IPN, the Incident Page Network, reported it in real time, then the feed was picked up by local and national media.
Dear db1219, Very kind comments. You have a good heart. I had no idea this occurred until late last night. I am a rapidly aging baby boomer and the 4th generation born in Seattle. There have always been flood issues north of Seattle on the numerous rivers up near the Cascade Mountains when we have torrential rains but nothing like this. God willing, they will find many survivors. I pray so. Take care. John.
Let's not just pray for the survivors and those still missing, let's also pray for all the rescuer's that are putting their safety and life on the line for others. God bless them all.
Horrible news. I hope for survivors. Why are there comments about Obama and the First Lady's trip to China on here?
Sorry about that. Accidentally wrote part of an Email on here ! Ooops.Well, let's just HOPE that they are no more people found dead. How terribly sad.
I have family in the state of Washington. This is terrible.
OK. I've located the exact area of the slide on Google Earth. It's at 48°17’00.16” N 121°50’49.33”W. It's is clear that the failure occurred in an unstable area that had failed in the past, and the failure is definitely deep-seated. The debris from the earlier failure(s) would be very weak and highly fractured allowing for infiltration of large amounts of water in the soil/rock mass. With high pore pressures, the material becomes extremely weak and fails. Since it had failed before, it would occur more as a thick debris flow rather than a block glide. This is virtually the same situation as the one I related about the La Conchita landslide in California. There is no way that people were unaware of the danger of that slope failure. The evidence of past failure would be evident to a first-year geology student.If you're interested, I'm a professional geologist and geotechnical engineer with considerable experience in landslide exploration, analysis and remediation.
And another Washington DOWNPOUR is here Tuesday all week long. Oh, Lord no!! It's gonna get real bad with that river already backed up.
I believe the Lord or God is not listening or caring at this point. The innocent die and the rats in the White House and government still go on living. One big bomb and they would all be gone. One way to wipe out all the trouble people. Sad for those who have lost family, friends, homes and pets too.Life sucks
You are demented and hateful. And immeasurably ignorant.
Are you sane? Wipe out all the trouble people. Who are they? and who would choose which ones were or were not the trouble people. The ones who sit around passing judgment on everyone? Or someone with a Jim Jones attitude? Not only is your comment insane, it is scary. Life isn't always fair, but we do the best to go on and to support our fellow neighbors through this tragedy.
Looks like the river meandered a new route. That's good! Just like that community will. They are strong, tough, hard workers and very tight. Day at a time.
Those folks who live up there are very tough, strong survivors. They will make it and carry on. They will build new roads and overcome. You're all in my prayers. I have faith in your strength.
That community will prevail. They are tough, tight and strong. They are not complainers, they are do'ers. It's tough there year round. They will conquer this.