Thursday 18 December 2014

Mudslide death toll set to rise

Published 25/03/2014 | 04:52

The aftermath of the massive Washington mudslide (AP)
The aftermath of the massive Washington mudslide (AP)

The death toll from a massive US mudslide is expected to increase as crews continue to search through the debris-laden field and rainy conditions complicate matters for searchers on the ground and in the air.

Fourteen people have been confirmed dead after the disaster in Washington state, but dozens of others remain unaccounted for.

Authorities are working from a list of 176 potentially missing people, although many of those names are likely to be duplicates and the number is expected to decrease.

Snohomish County emergency management director John Pennington said officials expect to have an updated list later.

The landslide on Saturday destroyed a small community north-east of Seattle, flattening about two dozen homes and critically injuring several people.

From the beginning, rescue crews on the ground have faced dangerous and unpredictable conditions as they navigated quicksand-like mud that was 15ft deep in places. Some who went in got caught up to their armpits in the thick, sticky sludge.

A scientist who documented the conditions on the hillside that buckled had warned in a 1999 report filed with the US Army Corps of Engineers of the "potential for a large catastrophic failure", the Seattle Times reported.

That report was written by geomorphologist Daniel J Miller and his wife, Lynne Rodgers Miller. "We've known it would happen at some point," Mr Miller told the newspaper.

Snohomish County executive John Lovick and public works director Steve Thomsen said they were not aware of the 1999 report. "A slide of this magnitude is very difficult to predict," Mr Thomsen told The Times. "There was no indication, no indication at all."

The threat of potential flash floods or another landslide also loomed over rescuers. Some crews had to pull back yesterday because of concern that a hillside could shift.

Barack Obama declared an emergency, ordering aid for the community and national agencies to co-ordinate relief efforts.

The president asked Americans to send their thoughts and prayers to Washington state as search operations continue.

"We hope for the best, but we recognise this is a tough situation," he added.

Press Association

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