Additional victims of a massive landslide in Oso were found early Tuesday, according to Snohomish County officials. The number of additional victims was not immediately available.
At the beginning of the day, the number reported missing still stood at 176 and 14 deaths had already been confirmed.
Also Tuesday, a volunteer worker was hit in the head with debris and hurt, but the injuries did not appear to be serious, authorities said. The debris reportedly was getting blown around in the wash from a helicopter.
Meanwhile rain was threatening to hamper the search and a flash-flood watch was issued in the area.
Snohomish County emergency manager John Pennington acknowledged that the chances of finding survivors was small, but said the effort remained a rescue and recovery operation.
“I’ve said it before: I believe in miracles,” he said. “I believe that people can survive these events.”
“We are going to do everything that we can, with our capabilities, to recover every single person,” said Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots. “That’s no guarantee that we’re going to get everybody, but we are going to do our very best to get everybody out of there.”
President Barack Obama declared an emergency in Snohomish County and sent help to the area. About 50 members of the National Guard were deployed to the west side of the slide, Pennington said.
A 96-person Urban Search and Rescue team will also join in the effort. Pennington and Hots both stressed Tuesday that they do not need any more volunteers in the search effort. They said the terrain is much too dangerous.
State officials also warned people to look out for scams that prey on people who want to help.
Authorities said Tuesday afternoon they were looking for 176 people who had not been heard from since the disaster, about 55 miles northeast of Seattle. Officials predicted the number of missing would decline as more people were found safe. But the startling length of the list added to the anxieties three days after the mile-wide layer of soft earth crashed onto a cluster of homes at the bottom of a river valley.
About 30 houses were destroyed, and the debris blocked a mile-long stretch of state highway near Arlington.
Cory Kuntz and several volunteers worked Monday with chainsaws to cut through the roof of his uncle’s house, which was swept about 150 yards from its previous location. Kuntz said his aunt, Linda McPherson, was killed. He and the others pulled out files, his aunt’s wallet and a box filled with pictures and slides.
“When you look at it, you just kind of go in shock, and you kind of go numb,” he said, adding that there were more people out helping Sunday. On Monday, they couldn’t get through roadblocks.
“They are all eager to get down here, but unfortunately they can’t. It just shows how tight this community is,” he said.
Doug Reuwsaat, who grew up in the area and was also helping in the search, said authorities had told people to stay away.
“We’re related to a lot of these people from around here. So that’s why we’re here,” he said.
The mudslide struck Saturday morning, a time when most people are at home. Of the 49 structures in the neighborhood, authorities believe at least 25 were full-time residences.
Elaine Young and her neighbors uncovered several bodies Sunday and had to contact authorities to get them removed.
They also found a chocolate Labrador named Buddy alive, and helped pull the dog from the rubble, leading her to wonder if other survivors could be out there, desperate for help.
“If we found a dog alive yesterday afternoon that we cut out of a part of a house, doesn’t that seem that maybe somebody could be stuck up under part of a house and be alive too?” Young asked Monday. Her home survived the slide but was on the edge of the devastation.
Authorities believe Saturday’s slide was caused by recent heavy rains that made the terrain unstable. On Monday, the Seattle Times reported that a 1999 study warned of a catastrophic failure of the hillside.
When asked on Tuesday whether he knew about the report, Pennington said he hadn’t gotten a chance to look at it.
“I want to know why this slide went too,” he said. “I’m not just an emergency director, I’m also a dad and I want to know why this happened.”
“There’ve been warnings and advance notifications of the high risk of a landslide,” he added. “We’ve done everything we can to mitigate that risk.”
History: What led to the Oso slide
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.
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.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee described the scene as “a square mile of total devastation” after flying over the disaster area. He assured families that everything was being done to find their missing loved ones.
Retired firefighter Gail Moffett, who lives in Oso, said she knows about 25 people who are missing, including entire families with young children.
“It’s safe to say I’ll know everyone affected or who they are,” Moffett said. “There’s so much pain going on in the community right now.”
The spirits of search-and-rescue teams were raised late Saturday when they heard cries for help from the flotsam of trees, dirt and shattered wood. But no one else has been found alive since then.
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.
In the nearby town of Darrington, Internet and phone services were restored Tuesday, which can help the community aid the survivors and victims’ families. A secondary access road into town was expected to reopen by the end of the day.
Oso slide area: