Updated: March 24, 2014, 10:05 pm. E.T.
Fourteen people have been confirmed dead in a devastating mudslide that struck a small riverside neighborhood in Washington State on Saturday morning. Authorities said Monday that 176 people were still missing or unaccounted for, a huge increase of prior estimates that 18 people were missing, though that number may include duplicates.
Snohomish County emergency management director John Pennington emphasized that not all of the missing were necessarily injured or killed. The larger number is from a combined list of names reported missing in the wake of the mudslide from various sources.
Screams and cries for help could be heard by rescue teams beneath the wreckage on Saturday evening, but the mud was so thick that the searchers had to turn back. On Sunday, no sounds were heard among the sludge-covered debris.
“We didn’t see or hear any signs of life out there today,” said Snohomish County Fire District 21 chief Travis Hots. Still, Hots said crews were in a “search-and-rescue mode. It has not gone to a recovery mode at this time.”
The operation was discontinued at nightfall because of dangerous conditions. Rescue workers had already sunk down to their armpits into the mud and had to be pulled to safety.
The massive slide, destroying about 30 homes, occurred at about 11 a.m. Saturday.
“In three seconds everything got washed away,” a witness who was driving on a highway when the mudslide happened told the Seattle Times. “Darkness covering the whole roadway and one house right in the middle of the street.”
Washington Governor Jay Inslee described the scene as “a square mile of devastation” after flying over the area on Sunday, and declared a state of emergency. Residents have been advised to evacuate the area, as debris from the slide has dammed up the north fork of the Stillaguamish River, threatening severe flooding if the water, rising roughly a foot every half hour, bursts through the blockage.
The article has been updated to include the latest developments on Monday evening.