Washington Governor Jay Inslee is describing the region 40 miles north of Seattle as a disaster zone after a mudslide killed three people and left 18 missing on Saturday. Reportedly, a square mile of destruction could be seen by rescue workers flying over the area in helicopters, and the mud itself has become something like quicksand, making it nearly impossible for people on the ground to help. In one case, searchers could hear voices crying out, but were unable to reach them.
Before noon on Saturday, the mudslide ravaged Snohomish County and officials are warning that the number of missing and dead will be subject to change when new information is gathered. What they do know is that some places are buried in up to 60 feet of mud and that possibly 30 homes in one neighborhood alone have been decimated.
The slide has since moved downhill, blocking the Stillaguamish River and forcing evacuations in fear of a resulting flood. John Pennington, the Director of Emergency Management, has referred to the situation as a “disaster within a disaster.” The first was the mudslide event, but rescuers are cautious that another might hit very soon. Due to the chances of a flash flood, the National Weather Service issued a warning for Snohomish County, and residents in the communities of Stanwood, Oso, and Arlington have been told to move to higher ground.
According to AccuWeather, the mudslide was likely caused by the saturation of groundwater from recent rainfall in the area. In this month, more than five inches of rain and over twice the average for March drenched Everett, which is 31 miles southwest of Oso.
The mudslide in Washington has blocked the state highway, leaving authorities no other option but to rely on helicopters to search for signs of life. First responders have called it the worst damage they have seen in decades from a natural disaster, with some likening it to the devastation left by the eruption of Mount St. Helens. Along with the 18 who are still missing, several people have been critically injured, including an 81-year-old man and an infant. The 6-month-old has been taken by helicopter to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, according to Lt. Rodney Rochon of the Snohomish County sheriff’s special operations unit.
Shari Ireton, spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, reported that it is still not certain whether the missing people are trapped underground and require timely rescue or if they got out safely and their whereabouts are simply unknown. The National Weather Service reported that the mudslide was initially blocking a river with a water-level that dropped almost two feet when the blockage broke loose, and people in the path of the wall of dirt said their houses were turned into sticks as they had to dig themselves out.
Some rescuers are reporting that nothing is left in some places after a section of highway that was about 360 yards long, between Arlington and Darrington, was instantly buried in debris 20 feet deep. With roads closed in northern Washington and searchers doing their best to find the 18 people who are still missing, time is critical to salvage the devastation from this mudslide.
By Elijah Stephens