December 22, 2014
Death toll from Washington state mudslide climbs to 14, scores missing
The confirmed death toll from a devastating weekend mudslide in Washington state climbed to 14 people as six more bodies were found, while scores of others remained listed as missing two days after the tragedy, authorities said.
The Snohomish County Sheriff's Office reported the higher casualty count hours after emergency management officials expressed doubt anyone else would be plucked alive from the muck that engulfed dozens of homes when a rain-soaked hillside near Oso, Washington, collapsed on Saturday morning.
Meanwhile, concern lingered about flooding from water backing up behind a crude dam of mud and rubble dumped into the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River by the slide in an area along State Route 530, about 55 miles (90 km) northeast of Seattle.
"The situation is very grim," said Travis Hots, the local fire chief. "We're still holding out hope that we're going to be able to find people that may still be alive. But keep in mind we haven't found anybody alive on this pile since Saturday in the initial stages of our operation."
President Barack Obama, who was in Europe today for a meeting with world leaders, signed an emergency declaration ordering US government assistance to supplement state and local relief efforts in the aftermath of the mudslide and flooding, the White House said.
Several dozen homes were believed to have sustained some damage from the slide, John Pennington, director of the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management, told reporters at a command post in the nearby town of Arlington.
More than 100 properties were hit by the cascading mud, 49 of which had a house, cabin or mobile home on them, Pennington said. At least 25 of those homes were believed to have been occupied year round.
"I'm pissed off I'm losing my house. I mean I hate to lose it. I've been working on it for 15 years," said 73-year-old Dennis Hargrave, who drove up from Kirkland, near Seattle, to learn what he could of his vacation home.
"But that's not my concern. My concern is, are my neighbors still alive? Is anybody surviving this?" he said.