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Fire Chief: Death toll from slide expected to rise

ARLINGTON, Wash. (AP) -- The death toll of 14 from a massive Washington state mudslide is expected to increase as crews continue to search through the soupy, debris-laden field and rainy conditions complicate matters for searchers on the ground and in the air.

"We're expecting that number to go up throughout the day," Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said Tuesday.

Dozens of people remain unaccounted for. Authorities are working off a list of 176 potentially missing people, though many of those names likely are duplicates and they think that number will decrease.

Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington said officials expect to have an updated list later Tuesday.

The landslide Saturday destroyed a small community 55 miles northeast of Seattle, flattening about two dozen homes and critically injuring several people.

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.

A scientist who documented the landslide conditions on the hillside that buckled had warned in a 1999 report filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of the "potential for a large catastrophic failure," The Seattle Times reported late Monday.

That report was written by geomorphologist Daniel J. Miller and his wife, Lynne Rodgers Miller. "We've known it would happen at some point," Daniel Miller told the newspaper (HTTP://IS.GD/YODBQX ).

Snohomish County Executive John Lovick and Public Works Director Steve Thomsen said Monday night they were not aware of the 1999 report. "A slide of this magnitude is very difficult to predict," Thomsen told The Times. "There was no indication, no indication at all."

Pennington said officials would examine the report, but he said local authorities were vigilant about warning of potential landslide dangers. A less severe slide struck the area in 2006.

"We've done everything we could to protect them. We've mitigated the landslide from 2006," Pennington said at a morning news conference. "We're going to get to the bottom of this."

He said the local homeowners "were very aware of the slide potential."

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.

Hots said dozens of searchers will continue throughout the day. The dry, sunny weather has turned to rain, which was expected to continue throughout the day.

"It's going to further complicate things, slow things down a bit," Hots said.

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new44moon March 26 2014 at 7:27 AM

Don't they do a soil test when you buy property? Wouldn't that unveil the instability of the ground?

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n1khb March 25 2014 at 6:36 PM

Another case of one hand not knowing what the other is doing in government. Anything that the Army Corps of Engineers knew should have been known to local officials and residents. The question to ask is where the communication between agencies broke down.

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Beverly Doyle March 25 2014 at 6:39 PM

Back in the 1950s this area was nicknamed "Slide Hill" and had another bad slide in 2006 - shouldn't have had homes on it in the first place. See: http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2023218573_mudslidewarningsxml.html

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nkowalak March 25 2014 at 6:52 PM

Everyone is so full of comments about why we want to live in the mountains, why do we want to be by water, well we love mother nature and it is the test of her will to let us enjoy these areas. God be with those suffering now.

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crafterdi March 25 2014 at 8:04 PM

This is so sad. I am from Seattle and live a few hours away from the mudslide area (La Conchita) near Santa Barbara. See Below. People still live there! It is hard to believe. There are still houses under the mud with crosses on the roofs. Not sure what makes people stay unless they have no where else to go. I don't see that they fixed anything. Guess they have no where else to go.

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revivalman March 25 2014 at 8:06 PM

Look at the picture below of the Washington slide area. The recent slide is visible on the left, but to the right of it there are "scars" of at least three, maybe four, previous slides in the same area. Why in the world would there be a village here? And why would anyone even consider living there? (See pix)


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2 replies
msnova47 revivalman March 25 2014 at 11:23 PM

There is an arrogance in people that leads them to believe that they have brought Nature under control. This is just one of the many instances where they have been proved wrong. They will continue to build where they shouldn't because "it has such beautiful scenery" and they will continue to die. mudslide, hurricane, flood, etc.. Nature will in the end survive man.

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1 reply
bonnieallmine msnova47 March 26 2014 at 2:20 AM

I doubt most of these poor folks were arrogant, more likely just did not know or understand the danger, most of them.

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Steve revivalman March 26 2014 at 1:01 AM

Sadly, the general knowledge and education level of people is very low. Many people are simply unaware of the risk at all, while many others would likely refuse to believe the potential magnitude of such disasters. Then there are those who purposely ignore the warnings despite knowing the risk so they can develop and sell property like that to others. When asked, they will either deny the risk or try to make it seem minimal. When you add it all together, you get a major disaster which 'no one knew' about. The county officials who say they never heard of it maybe never did. Perhaps they are not qualified to have the jobs they have. If they had even basic knowledge of geology or physics they would and should have known. The fact they didn't shows how unqualified they are. There should be a law that people in these positions have some kind of science training or a degree. Attorny generals have to have law degrees, doctors have to have medical training. County safety officials should have more than just a few votes behind their name, they should actually know what they are doing, and no one should be building or developing areas with danger like that looming over them.

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1 reply
bonnieallmine Steve March 26 2014 at 2:23 AM

It seems to me we are not seeing all the assistance that should be there. Or did they remove the reporters? I saw one bit of news that some local person donated an excavator. There should be a number of them there, from the State of Washington. Instead of turning away volunteers, they should be under the supervision of the experts they are allowing in. This is being handled very poorly, very slowly. By now, they should have shortened the list of missing or enlarged the list of deceased. What a mess.

One government official said they had "mitigated" the last landslide. What does that mean?

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mystiklesd March 25 2014 at 8:28 PM

Roots can continue to grow --- yes, they can, as I've lived many a place where a tree was cut down, even to ground level and still put out shoots and you could not dig in the ground without hitting live roots. Also, roots can petrify and they can, depending on the soil, simply remain there unchanged for a long time. However, the tree canopy protects the soil from erosion and THIS is one reason why hillsides with quick drainage have a problem with the water carrying the soil away.
In La Jolla, California, there was a slide on a hillside from a water line break some years back. No rain even! But, you hang houses over an escarpment and they can go down..... It is NOT rocket science. If the folks in Washington had insurance, this event was probably excluded. If it wasn't, some insurance agent is going to be fired for sure.
About the different branches and levels of government not knowing what is discovered by the other, I agree 100 percent! It has been that way since the inception of this country. Why do you think they finally had to get all of the government secret agencies under one umbrella with the Office of Strategic Intelligence for WW2? The branches of the military all had their own organizations and so did the State Department and probably a few other of the government agencies! There was chaos and the divisions were killing each other's spies at times. Check it out.

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ilcul8r March 25 2014 at 9:08 PM

My heart goes out to all of you there, you are in my prayers as well.

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cam553 March 26 2014 at 12:25 AM

I can't believe the head of Public Works thought this was unpredictable when there had been slides in the same area, plus this 1999 report. The county never should have issued building permits for this area. It seemed obvious to me that there was potential for another slide when you cut the "toe" off an old one!

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annaelizabethwooten March 26 2014 at 1:11 AM

So sad, I pray for those who were clueless about what to do when this mudslide happened and they did not know what to do but to drown or be hit by flying debre in the water and their home being torn apart. I know I would not stubble against it, I would just let it happen, I know I would wake up in the next plain and I would not be dead, my family members would grieve, I could possible see what is happening and wonder when they are going to get to my body. And then I would go with my angels to the other side to with my family that left me before. I would be happy I was there and no longer in the mud.

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