Hopes fade of finding survivors among 176 missing after mudslide
HOPES were dwindling last night of finding any survivors among the 176 people missing after a mudslide buried part of a small town in Washington state under 20ft of sludge and debris.
Rescuers continued a frantic search three days after a mile-wide wave of mud swept into the town of Oso, north of Seattle, killing 14 people and engulfing homes and roads.
US troops and volunteers waded through rain and quicksand-like mud yesterday but authorities warned that the death toll was almost certain to continue to rise.
"While I won't get ahead of the ongoing response and rescue operations, we know that part of this tightly knit community has been lost," said US President Barack Obama.
Among the 176 people still missing are an unknown number of babies and small children, including three from a single family.
Jonielle Spillers (32) was at work on Saturday morning when the mudslide surged across Highway 530 and covered her home on Steelhead Drive.
Husband Billy (30) and their children JoJo (13), Kaylee (5), Jacob (4) and Brook (2) were in the house.
While Jacob was found by rescuers shortly after the mudslide struck, Mrs Spillers' husband and the other three children are still missing. "Please dear God pray," she wrote on Facebook.
Sanoah Huestis, a four-month-old baby, and her grandmother, Christina Jefferds, are also among the missing.
Recordings of panicked calls to the emergency services were released yesterday, capturing the moment shortly after 11am on Saturday when the wave descended, sweeping away power lines and destroying up to 30 homes.
"There has been a huge landslide, and it has pushed the house all the way across the road," screamed one woman as she watched a neighbour's home get swept away. No one has been found alive since Saturday.
"Yesterday I reported that we didn't find any signs of life, and I'm saddened to tell you that this is the case again today from the night shift," said Chief Travis Hots of the Snohomish Country fire department.
"The total fatality rate remains at 14 and we're expecting that number to go up throughout the day. We still have a total of 176 people that are unaccounted for."
Officials said they hoped to drive down the figure as they weeded out duplicate missing person entries.
When asked if the operation was moving from a rescue phase to recovering bodies, John Pennington, director of the local department of emergency management, said his team was "doing both", but had requested the help of mortuary teams. "That pretty much speaks for itself," he said.
He added: "I believe in miracles."