Mon., March 24, 2014 4:00pm (EDT)

8 Known To Have Died, But Mudslide's Toll May Go Much Higher
By Scott Neuman
Updated: 4 months ago

A destroyed house in the mud on Highway 530 next to mile marker 37 on Sunday, a day after the giant landslide near Oso, Washington.
A destroyed house in the mud on Highway 530 next to mile marker 37 on Sunday, a day after the giant landslide near Oso, Washington.
We've updated this post as more news has come in.

Already sad news from a tiny community north of Seattle turned even more grim on Monday. Officials signaled that they expect the death toll from Saturday's massive mudslide will climb further possibly by a lot.

When Monday dawned, at least eight people were known to have died.

But then local emergency officials made this stunning announcement: They have 108 names on a list of those who have yet to be accounted for. Those officials were "definitely indicating the death toll will rise," NPR's Martin Kaste reports from near the scene.

Martin adds that officials weren't saying the death toll will exceed 100. "Some of the names [on the list] are uncertain ... some of the reports are vague," he told our Newscast Desk. It's likely that some of those on the list weren't in the area at the time of the slide.

At the same time, he says, emergency officials repeated that the millions of yards of mud couldn't have come crashing down on the 49 residential lots in the community of Oso at a worse time. It happened on Saturday morning, when many people were likely to be at home, rather than at work or school.

Update at 3:30 p.m. ET: Now, Martin adds during a conversation recorded for today's All Things Considered that searchers continue to face a very dangerous situation. The debris, he says, "is treacherous and shifting ... it's [like] quicksand mixed with timber."

Also on All Things Considered, University of Washington geologist David Montgomery will talk about the three factors he thinks likely contributed to the slide:

-- Heavy rains in March.

-- The hill's "fairly weak, glacial material." It was basically, he says, "a wall of sand and silt that's hundreds of feet tall."

-- The river at the bottom of the valley that "has been cutting into the toe of he slope."

There had slides there before, Montgomery also notes, and one lesson from this tragedy might be this: "slopes that have failed in the past may cut loose without warning."

Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams All Things Considered.

Update at 1:45 p.m. ET: Meanwhile, according to The Seattle Times:

"Officials at [Monday] morning's news conference looked tired and weary as they spoke to a mass of reporters outside the Arlington Police Department.

" 'This is a large scale-disaster,' said Pennington, adding that the entire state and the nation have come to realize."

Our original post, which was updated at 12:30 p.m. ET with news of the higher "missing" number, picks up the story:

Searchers pulled more bodies from a soupy mixture of muck and debris, bringing the death toll to eight, after a massive mudslide over the weekend smashed through a community in rural western Washington state.

In a news conference Monday morning (local time), Snohomish County emergency management director John Pennington said a consolidated list of missing an unaccounted for contained 108 names.

"It's a soft 108," he said and doesn't mean there are that many injuries or fatalities.

Pennington said he anticipates the number will "decline dramatically" as officials work through the report.

He said some of the missing included construction workers coming into the neighborhood and people who happened to be driving by when the mudslide occurred on Saturday morning.

Pennington said authorities were still hopeful, but that "we have not found anyone alive on this pile since Saturday."

He said at least 49 homes and other structures had been damaged or destroyed in the mudslide.

Tod Gates, an incident commander was quoted by The Seattle Times on Sunday as saying he and other rescuers had used helicopters to fly over the wreckage, where they spotted four bodies Sunday, adding to four others found the day before.

NPR's Martin Kaste, reporting from Seattle, says millions of cubic yards of soil clogged the narrow river valley east of Interstate 5 about 50 miles north of Seattle.

"We didn't see or hear any signs of life out there today," Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said. "It's very disappointing to all emergency responders on scene."

On Sunday, officials said there were at least 18 people trapped in the mud. The Times says more casualties are likely, as the slide destroyed 30 or more homes and a mile-long stretch of Highway 530.

Officials think recent heavy rainfall made the ground unstable, triggering the mudslide.

KIRO TV reports:

"Washington Gov. Jay Inslee described the scene as 'a square mile of total devastation' after flying over the disaster area midday Sunday. He assured families that everything was being done to find their missing loved ones.

" 'There is a full scale, 100 percent aggressive rescue going on right now,' said Inslee, who proclaimed a state of emergency."

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