The confirmed death toll for the Washington state mudslide rose to 16 on Tuesday night, and officials said rescuers might have located eight more bodies. If so, that would bring the toll to 24.
The day was rainy and difficult for the more than 200 rescue personnel scouring the mud and slurry just east of Oso, using cadaver dogs and sometimes their hands to pick through the wreckage.
“We didn’t find any signs of life; we didn’t locate anybody alive,” Travis Hots, chief of Snohomish County Fire District 21, told reporters. “Our condolences go out to the families that have lost people here.”
About 49 homes were smashed in northwestern Washington, about an hour north of Seattle, when a massive segment of land cut away from a hill along the Stillaguamish River on Saturday.
Rescuers have found no survivors since the first day, and have been holding out diminishing hope for a miracle rescue. Instead, the death toll has continued to rise, with two more bodies recovered Tuesday, Hots said.
Hots described his awe at the tremendous wrath the mudslide brought down on the community. He said he had thought if people were buried in their cars, rescuers would just dig out the cars and the people would be OK. Instead, he said, the cars were “twisted and torn up into pieces.”
“It is just amazing the magnitude and the force that this slide has created, and it’s not just done that to cars,” Hots said. “It’s done it to buildings, carpeting, photo albums … all this mud, that’s heavy, [makes the rescue efforts] very, very challenging.”
At a Tuesday evening news conference, officials were unable to provide any more clarity on the number of missing, which had risen to 176 people Monday evening - with the caveat that the list could include duplications.
That number fluctuated throughout Tuesday as residents in nearby Darrington saw their communications restored after having been cut off by the mudslide. That unleashed new information for officials.
John Pennington, director of the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management, declined to provide a firm number of missing Tuesday night, saying that a better, more accurate number would be released Wednesday morning.
He also urged residents to begin the grieving process, giving out a local crisis phone number and urging the community to call to talk about the losses they have suffered.
“Healing has to take place,” Pennington said. “Grieving has to take place.”