Arlington - Hopes of finding any more survivors from a massive mudslide that killed at least eight people waned as searchers pulled more bodies from the tangled debris field and crews worked through the night into Monday in rural Washington state.
Search and rescue teams took to the air in helicopters and the ground on foot on Sunday looking for anyone who might still be alive. Their spirits had been raised late Saturday night when they heard voices calling for help from the flotsam of trees, dirt and wreckage. Dangerous conditions forced them to turn back in the darkness, but they resumed their work at first light Sunday.
"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."
Snohomish County sheriff's Lieutenant 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.
More people remained missing, and authorities said the number was "fluid." Earlier Sunday, they said it was at least 18, but that count came before additional bodies were discovered.
The 2.5-square kilometre slide also critically injured several people — including an infant — and destroyed about 30 homes.
Crews were able to get to the soupy, tree-strewn area that was 4.5 metres deep in places Sunday after geologists flew over in a helicopter and determined it was safe enough for emergency responders and technical rescue personnel to search for survivors, Hots said.
Difficult debris field
Before crews could get onto the debris field late Sunday morning, they looked for people by helicopter. They had late Saturday heard people yelling for help, but they were unable to reach anyone. The soupy mud was so thick and deep that searchers had to turn back.
The slide wiped through what neighbours described as a former fishing village of small homes — some nearly 100 years old.
Authorities believe the slide was caused by ground made unstable by recent heavy rainfall.
Bruce Blacker, who lives just west of the slide, doesn't know the whereabouts of six neighbours.
"It's a very close knit community," Blacker said as he waited at an Arlington roadblock before troopers let him through.
Hots said searchers would continue their efforts through the difficult debris field.
"There may be people in their cars, there may be people in houses," he said.