Officials say they are working from a list of 176 people who are unaccounted for, but they acknowledge that some of the names might be duplicates. In the hours after the wall of mud came down from the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, across Highway 530 and buried the adjacent community of Darrington on Saturday morning, the number of missing was originally listed as 18. On Monday, officials raised the missing toll to 108. About 30 homes were destroyed.
“Candidly, the 176 names … I believe very strongly is not going to be a number that we’re going to see in fatalities,” says John Pennington, who heads the Snohomish County’s Department of Emergency Management.
“I believe it’s going to drop dramatically,” Pennington said. “But it doesn’t make the process any easier.”
Reuters says about a dozen workers kept up the search overnight amid dimming hopes for survivors.
President Barack Obama on Monday signed an emergency declaration.
“Tonight or tomorrow morning we should have additional search capabilities through the National Guard for our rescue and extraction efforts,” he said.
“Family members are grieving, trying to focus on finding missing loved ones or working through the process of rebuilding what was lost,” Inslee said.
“This is surreal, it’s just surreal. I can’t believe this is happening,” La Rae de Quilettes, whose husband Ron is missing, tells KPLU’s Bellamy Pailthorp.
Pailthorp reports on Morning Edition that on Saturday morning, Ron met a couple at the site of a new house they were building right in the middle of the slide area. All three are now missing.
La Rae says she’s still praying and imagining he’s somehow alive. She says his cell phone pinged a tower nearby just minutes before the mudslide.
“We’re hoping he’s like pinned in a closet, somewhere in the mud, but they have air pockets and they’re keeping each other going,” she says.
A report filed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1999 highlighted “the potential for a large catastrophic failure” of the hillside in the area was one among several warnings issued about the area where the disaster occurred, The Seattle Times newspaper reports.