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Washington mudslide: Struggling to count missing; 7 still hospitalized

ARLINGTON, Wash. — The mudslide in rural northwestern Washington has claimed at least eight lives so far, and officials Monday were hustling to find the 108 people reported missing after the disaster.

But officials at a morning news conference urged caution on the number of people reported missing in the mudslide just east of Oso, which wiped out dozens of rural homes with a square mile of mud and wreckage on Saturday.

"This number is going to decline dramatically. ... Some [reports of the missing] are as detailed as 'John with brown hair and blue eyes who lived in a particular neighborhood.' Others are just 'Frank, I met him once,' " said John Pennington, the director of the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management. 

Pennington added, "It’s not necessarily 108 injuries; it's not necessarily 108 fatalities."

The death toll rose to eight late Sunday evening, with no more bodies found overnight as rescuers brought in powerful lights to help rescuers pick through the wreckage and the slurry in the dark.

[Updated 12:35 p.m. PST, March 24: A 6-month-old boy and an 81-year-old man, both in critical condition, were among the seven mudslide survivors who remained hospitalized Monday.

The pair, along with three others, were hospitalized at the Harborview Medical Center, according to a statement from the hospital.

A Cascade Valley Hospital spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times that it was caring for one patient in stable condition, and an official at the Skagit Valley Hospital said one patient was in satisfactory condition.]

On Monday, a clearer picture emerged of the area ruined by the mudslide, which was about an hour's drive north of Seattle. Pennington said there were 49 lots of property with housing that had been hit by the slide.

Of those lots, there was one cabin, 13 manufactured homes (including recreation vehicles), and 35 built homes, Pennington said. Of those 49 lots, 25 were occupied full time, 10 were occupied part time or were vacation homes, and officials had no information yet about the other 14 lots, Pennington said.

The mudslide also overran the Stillaguamish River — initially causing flooding fears that have somewhat subsided — and buried Highway 530, a crucial rural route whose loss has cut off the population of Darrington, population 1,359, about 12 miles east of the slide.

Officials urged residents to call a county number to report missing and unaccounted-for people and others impacted by slide, also asking that surviving residents call in and identify themselves and report where they are.

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