Crews recovered and identified two more victims at the site of a massive Washington state mudslide Tuesday, according to authorities.
Chief Travis Hots said eight more bodies were located but were unable to be retrieved. This brings the total to 24 people confirmed dead.
Crews continue to search through the soupy, debris-laden field and rainy conditions complicate matters for searchers on the ground and in the air.
“It’s slow, tedious work,” said Hots in a press conference. “When I pictured this slide, I pictured…if someone was in their vehicle when the mudslide came on, that we would just dig through the mud and pull them out and they’d be okay. But these vehicles are twisted and torn up into pieces.”
Dozens of people remain unaccounted for. Authorities are working off a list of 176 potentially missing people, though many of those names likely are duplicates and they think that number will decrease.
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Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington originally said officials would have an updated list on Tuesday, but said at the press conference they don’t have a firm number yet.
He added that three more officers have been tasked to coordinate the tips they are getting in, and they hope to have a firm number tomorrow.
The landslide Saturday destroyed a small community 55 miles northeast of Seattle, flattening about two dozen homes and critically injuring several people.
From the beginning, rescue crews on the ground have faced dangerous and unpredictable conditions as they navigated quicksand-like mud that was 15 feet deep in some places. Of the over 200 respondents on site, some have got caught up to their armpits in the thick, sticky sludge.
A volunteer suffered minor injuries Tuesday, according to Snohomish County, and was taken to a local hospital.
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A scientist who documented the landslide conditions on the hillside that buckled had warned in a 1999 report filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of the “potential for a large catastrophic failure,” The Seattle Times reported late Monday.
That report was written by geomorphologist Daniel J. Miller and his wife, Lynne Rodgers Miller. “We’ve known it would happen at some point,” Daniel Miller told the newspaper (http://is.gd/yodBQx).
Snohomish County Executive John Lovick and Public Works Director Steve Thomsen said Monday night they were not aware of the 1999 report. “A slide of this magnitude is very difficult to predict,” Thomsen told The Times. “There was no indication, no indication at all.”
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Pennington said officials would examine the report, but he said local authorities were vigilant about warning of potential landslide dangers.
A less severe slide struck the area in 2006. “We’ve done everything we could to protect them. We’ve mitigated the landslide from 2006,” Pennington said at a morning news conference. “We’re going to get to the bottom of this.”
He said the local homeowners “were very aware of the slide potential.”
The threat of potential flash floods or another landslide also loomed over rescuers. On Monday, some crews had to pull back because of concern that a hillside could shift.
On Tuesday evening, the search was still considered a rescue operation. “We haven’t lost hope that there’s a possibility that we could find somebody alive in a pocket area,” said Hots. “As the days go on, we are coming to the realization that it may not be a possibility, but we are going full steam ahead.”
With files from the Associated Press