Landslide Death Toll Doubles To 8 In Snohomish County, At Least 18 Missing

Authorities say the death toll from a massive landslide in rural Washington state has doubled to eight.

Snohomish County Sheriff's Lt. Rob Palmer said four more bodies were discovered late Sunday. Earlier in the day, authorities said one body had been found on the debris field. Three people were already confirmed dead on Saturday.

The 1-square-mile mudslide that struck Saturday morning also critically injured several people and destroyed about 30 homes.

At least 18 people remained missing, though authorities warned that number was "fluid."

Officials described the mudslide as "a big wall of mud and debris" that blocked about one mile of State Route 530 near the town of Oso, about 55 miles north of Seattle. It was reported about 60 feet deep in some areas, though it was beginning to breach on Sunday, officials said.

Authorities believe the slide was caused by groundwater saturation from recent heavy rainfall.

Several people, including an infant, were critically injured and as many as 30 houses were destroyed. One neighborhood "is not there anymore," Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said.

About 20 to 30 people have been displaced, Snohomish County Executive John Lovick said.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee described the scene as "a square mile of total devastation" after flying over the disaster area Sunday. "Everything within that path has been leveled. Not a stick is standing.”

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.

The slide blocked the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River. With the water rising rapidly behind the debris, authorities worried about severe downstream flooding and issued an evacuation notice Saturday.

Credit National Weather Service

The river broke through the wall of mud and debris on Sunday, said Snohomish County sheriff's office spokeswoman Shari Ireton. The flow was at a trickle; officials said they don't think the water would suddenly burst.

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. There were almost 20 homes in the neighborhood that was destroyed, he said.

"I'm hoping for the best," Blacker said.

People who live in the North Fork's flood plain, from the small communities of Oso to Stanwood, were urged Saturday to flee to higher ground. Even though the evacuation had been lifted Sunday morning, Inslee urged residents to remain alert.

Dane Williams, 30, who lives a few miles from the mudslide, spent Saturday night at a Red Cross shelter at an Arlington school.

He said he saw a few "pretty distraught" people at the shelter who didn't know the fate of loved ones who live in the stricken area.

"It makes me want to cry, just looking at them," Williams said Sunday.