Snohomish mudslide rescue operations hampered by thick, shifting masses of mud and debris as almost twenty victims remain missing after the slide wiped out neighborhoods in rural northwest Washington State. Three have been confirmed killed, and the number is likely to rise as crews are able to get into the area once it is safe enough to send in ground units. Helicopters are currently surveying the square mile area affected by the slide, and Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots assured the public in a news briefing that “we suspect that people are out there, but it’s far too dangerous to get responders out there on that mudflow.” Hots went on to say that the mud, reported to be up to sixty feet deep in some areas, is like quicksand, preventing responders from entering the area where victims are most likely trapped.
Roughly a mile of State Route 530 was blocked when the slide tore through, as well as the north fork of the Sillaguamish river. An evacuation order was released due to concern that the wall of debris and dirt would result in flash flooding downstream, as well as flooding as water backed up behind the obstruction. Eye-witness Paulo Falcao was driving along Route 520 when he the slide poured over the road in front of him, he managed to brake just in time to avoid being consumed. Given his close call, and with Snohomish mudslide rescue operations hampered, authorities expect the number of missing to fluctuate as drivers that may have been in the area are confirmed or discovered.
Of those rescued, 5 were taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, among them a 6-month old boy and 81-year old man both in critical conditions, two more men in serious condition, and one woman who has been upgraded to satisfactory condition. Five more survivors were taken to Cascade Valley Hospital, one was treated and realised but the condition of the other four is unknown. Red Cross workers have set up there and evacuation centers have been raised at Post Middle School in Arlington and the Darrington Community Center.
The cause of the Snohomish Mudslide is thought to be connected to groundwater saturation resulting from recent heavy rainfall, its likely the hill that slid was more water than dirt at the time of the slide. The area has a history of unstable ground, but this mudslide came with no warning whatsoever. Much of the debris has come to rest in the Stillaguamish river and residents of the North Forks flood plain from Oso and Standwood have been urged to relocate until the threat of floods subsides.
With Snohomish mudslide rescue operations hampered by the unstable and unpredictable terrain, rescue workers were forced to turn back despite hearing cries for help amid the debris and wreckage. After managing to get closer despite the danger of the situation, the rescue personnel could no longer hear any sign of life. As the clean-up and rescue operation continues, it is difficult to gauge what the total losses will be, but it is unlikely that Snohomish will forget this mudslide any time soon.
By Daniel O’Brien