|Painstaking: Searchers slowly move through a field of debris following Tuesday’s deadly landslide that
left an estimated 24 people dead with dozens still missing
The official death toll rose to 16 with the discovery of the additional victims as crews searched under drizzly skies for survivors amid fading hopes that anyone could still be plucked alive from the massive pile of mud-soaked rumble.
‘Unfortunately we did not find any signs of life today, we didn’t locate anybody alive, so that’s the disappointing part,’ local fire chief Travis Hots told a media briefing.
WATCH: More Mudslide Victims Found.
‘It’s unimaginable, the conditions out there they’re dealing with,’ Hots said.
The grim discoveries came three days after the collapse of a rain-soaked hillside about 55 miles north of Seattle.
Searchers had warned they were likely to find more bodies in the debris field, which covered a neighborhood of 49 structures. Authorities believe at least 25 were full-time residences.
|Quicksand: Rescuers user inflatable rafts to traverse the watery sludge and debris that has built up around the
rubble caused by the huge landslide that hit Oso on Saturday
| Hit like a bulldozer: Houses and other structures are shown flooded by the backed-up Stillaguamish River up-river
from the massive mudslide that killed at least 24 people on Saturday and left dozens missing
| Prayers: People gather Tuesday, March 25, 2014, at a candlelight vigil in Arlington, for the victims of
a massive mudslide that struck the nearby community of Oso, Washington
Authorities believe that the mudslide destroyed 35 homes, as well as 13 manufactured homes, including RVs, and at least one cabin.
As many as 176 people remained listed as missing three days after the slide on Saturday, tumbling over a river, across a state road and into a rural residential area where it swallowed dozens of homes near the town of Oso.
Officials said they were hoping that number would decline as some of those listed as missing may have been double-counted or were slow to alert family and officials of their whereabouts. Eight people were injured.
But the disaster already ranks as one of the deadliest landslides in recent U.S. history. In 2005, 10 people died when a hillside gave way and engulfed homes in La Conchita, California.
‘We’re all still hoping for that miracle but we are preparing for the other possibility,’ Washington State Patrol spokesman Bob Calkins said Tuesday afternoon.
And as the rain still fell on Tuesday night, about 200 people gathered in the cold at a park in Arlington to pray for the victims, friends and family of those lost.
‘Hug each other. Wipe away each other’s tears,’ said Pastor Chad Blood with the Lifeway Foursquare Church in Arlington.
|Hope: A flag, put up by volunteers helping search the area, stands in the ruins of a home left at the end of a deadly
mudslide from the now-barren hillside seen about a mile behind, on Tuesday, March 25, 2014, in Oso, Washington
|More than 100 homes were affected by the collapse of the hill and the overflowing river
which now separates the town and covers one mile
|The river’s banks have collapsed and water is flooding after mud piled in from a hillside on Saturday,
and remains the same today
‘People are just responding,’ he said. ‘When a need arises they just come and take care of it until we have to turn them away. I’m speechless at times, and so very proud of out community.’
Though authorities have said the chances were low of finding any more survivors in the cement-like mud blanketing the landscape, Hots said some 50 more searchers had been brought in to sift through the disaster zone in hopes of a miracle.
‘This makes up over 200 responders that are here on site working very hard to locate victims and hopefully find somebody that is still alive. That is still our number-one priority out there,’ he said.
‘What we’re finding is these vehicles are twisted and torn up in pieces.’
‘It’s amazing the force and magnitude what this slide has done.’
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.
At one site in a square-mile zone of devastation that once contained a meandering river surrounded by rural homes, the landslide pushed a house onto the highway, leaving nothing intact but its cedar shake roof.
Operators of excavators with clawed buckets dug through the debris, and chaplains stood by to comfort searchers and families of the missing. Hots said dogs also were being used to identify potential buried bodies, which were dug out in some cases with bulldozers or other heavy equipment.
President Barack Obama, who was in Europe for a meeting with world leaders, signed an emergency declaration ordering U.S. government assistance to supplement state and local relief efforts, the White House said.
|Set side by side, the two images show how the one-mile stretch of land looked before the disaster this
weekend which saw more than 176 go missing and killed 14
|Search: From a helicopter, Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary surveys the wreckage of homes destroyed in
Saturday’s mudslide near Oso, Washington as the search for survivors grew on Monday to include
scores of people who were still unaccounted for
|Devastation: Search and rescue personnel continue working the area of Saturday’s mudslide, at Oso, Washington|
Speaking at The Hague, where he was attending a summit, Obama began a news conference on Tuesday by addressing the disaster in Washington state and asking Americans to ‘send their thoughts and prayers’ to those affected by the disaster.
‘We hope for the best, but we recognize this is a tough situation,’ he said.
The president also called Washington Governor Jay Inslee on Tuesday to discuss the mudslide, according to Inslee’s office.
Compounding the sense of urgency was a fear of flooding as water levels rose behind a crude dam of mud and rubble that was dumped into the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River by the slide.
The river was rising with rain on Tuesday, but had cut a channel through fresh mud and debris, lessening the chance of flooding, officials said.
A volunteer was injured Tuesday when he was struck by debris blown by a helicopter’s rotor. The man was transported to a hospital for evaluation, but the injuries appear minor, Snohomish County sheriff’s spokeswoman Shari Ireton said in a statement.
Near the southern perimeter of the slide, volunteers from a logging crew gathered to help move debris with chain saws, excavators and other heavy equipment.
Gene Karger said he could see six orange flags in the debris field, marking bodies they would be pulling out. Karger, a logger most of his life, said it was the first time he was involved in this kind of rescue work.
‘You see parts of their bodies sticking out of the mud. It’s real hard. It’s that bad,’ Karger said. ‘There are people out there we know.’
Hots said about 200 responders using everything from heavy equipment and search dogs to their bare hands were working through the debris field Tuesday in rainy, wet conditions.
‘We didn’t locate anybody alive,’ he said. ‘We haven’t lost hope that there’s a possibility that we can find somebody alive in some pocket area.’
More than one mile of rain-soaked hillside collapsed onto the remote town, which is just five square miles in size, at 11am on Saturday.
Three days on, hundreds of rescue workers with dogs, aircraft and sonar equipment remain scouring the wreckage for survivors in the slide which has swamped a fifth of Oso’s land.
But amidst the devastation, experts have revealed they predicted this would happen in 1999.
In a report filed with the US Army Corps of Engineers, geologists warned of ‘the potential for a large catastrophic failure’ 15 years ago.
‘We’ve known it would happen at some point, we just didn’t know when,’ co-author Daniel Miller told The Seattle Times.
Geological reports warning the hill is in imminent danger of collapse date back to the 1950s.
|Apocalyptic: Steve Skaglund walks across the rubble on the east side of Saturday’s fatal mudslide|
|Here rescue workers are seen removing a body from the wreckage of homes destroyed by a mudslide near Oso|
|This is one of the six bodies found after emergency services expressed doubt over their ability to find the missing people|
But the alerts, issued by experts every ten years, went unnoticed.
And in a press conference following Saturday’s slide, the head of Snohomish County’s Department of Emergency Management, John Pennington, said ‘it was considered very safe’.
Mr Miller said he was shocked to see houses being built around the danger zone weeks after a slide in 2006.
The slide, which was thought to be caused by heavy rain, formed a new channel along the cliff-side, but carpenters immediately set to work erecting homes along it.
‘Frankly I was shocked that the county permitted any building from across the river,’ Mr Miller told the paper.
In fact, the area has long been known as the ‘Hazel Landslide’ because of landslides over the past half-century. The last major one before Saturday’s disaster was in 2006.
‘We’ve done everything we could to protect them,’ Pennington said.
Patricia Graesser, a spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers in Seattle, said it appears the report was intended not as a risk assessment, but as a feasibility study for ecosystem restoration.
Asked whether the agency should have done anything with the information, she said, ‘We don’t have jurisdiction to do anything. We don’t do zoning. That’s a local responsibility.’
No landslide warnings for the area were issued immediately before the disaster, which came after weeks of heavy rain. – Daily Mail.