Washington Mudslide: 3 People Dead, Many Missing


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Three have died and eighteen people are unaccounted for after a massive landslide occurred in northwest Washington state, officials said on Sunday.

Search teams are still looking for victims hit by the slide, which happened in eastern Snohomish County. Underneath all of that mud, searchers reported hearing screams, some thought to be children, coming from the area hit by the landslide late Saturday.

Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said at a news briefing that "we suspect that people are out there, but it's far too dangerous to get responders out there on that mudflow."

Searchers in helicopters will be flying over the square-mile area of the mudslide on Sunday in an effort to find people who may have been able to get out on their own, or are trapped and possibly still alive.

Authorities are also trying to determine how to get responders on the ground safely, Hots said, describing the area, "like quicksand."

Shari Ireton, spokeswoman for the Snohomish County sheriff's office said it is unclear if the missing people are trapped or have simply not reported their whereabouts. The sheriff's office is asking people affected by the slide to report to the Red Cross so an accurate count can be made of the missing.

The three deaths were confirmed by the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office. Another eight people have been rescued and were being treated at local hospitals. At least six houses were destroyed, the sheriff's office said in a statement.

Lt. Rodney Rochon, head of the Snohomish County sheriff's special operations unit said a 6-month-old baby was airlifted to Seattle's Harborview Medical Center and is in critical condition.

“We’ll be here all night long doing what we can to rescue people,” Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary said.

Trenary, speaking at a televised news conference, did not specify what kinds of sounds were heard. He said the search was extremely difficult due to the sheer devastation to the area, which lies about 40 miles north of Seattle.

“There’s nothing left in the area,” he said.

The speed and severity of the slide was unbelievable, witnesses said it came so fast that there wasn't time to react. It covered at least a 360-yard long section of the road, with mud and debris up to 20-feet deep.

"In three seconds, everything got washed away," said Paulo de Oliveira, who was driving on Highway 530 when the slide hit around 11 a.m. "Darkness covering the whole roadway and one house right in the middle of the street."

De Oliveria said he was behind two other vehicles when the slide hit. "I came within about 50 feet of being washed out."

He got out of his car and heard a woman scream from one of the engulfed houses.

"Along the river, I saw one place where there were two homes and they were just gone. Nothing left but a portable toilet ... destruction all around."

Robin Youngblood was sitting in the living room with her friend, Jetty Dooper, when they heard a crack.

"All of a sudden there was a wall of mud" about 25 feet high, she said. "Then it hit and we were rolling. The house was in sticks. We were buried under things, and we dug ourselves out."

Youngblood said she scrambled onto the top of the clothes dryer, and Dooper onto a dishwasher.

Covered in mud and shivering, they waited for perhaps an hour until they were lifted a short distance by helicopter and placed on an ambulance, Youngblood said.

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