Washington landslide: At least 18 unaccounted for, fire chief says

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At least 18 people are unaccounted for after a landslide north of Seattle, the fire chief said at a news conference Sunday.

The landslide on Saturday affected an area of about a square mile and resulted in three deaths, Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said. Seven people have been taken to the hospital. The landslide was caused by groundwater saturation tied to heavy rainfall in the area over the past month, authorities said.

While there’s a tremendous effort to rescue people who may be trapped, Hots told reporters that the rescue operation must be focused Sunday on keeping responders safe because the area is highly unstable. The mud flow is like quicksand, he said. Responders suspect there are survivors, but it is “far too dangerous” to get rescuers to those people. The landslide is 15 feet deep in some places, emergency officials said.

On Saturday rescuers dug through the rubble while survivors were crying for help underneath the debris, Hots confirmed. Hots said that rescuers heard voices around 11:30 p.m. and considered trying to reach the possible survivor or survivors, but “the mud was too thick and deep,” Hots said, and rescuers had to back off.

For the time being, helicopters are surveying the area so that an assessment can be made as to when and how it will be safe for responders to attempt to help people.

As of Sunday morning, Harborview Medical Center spokeswoman Susan Gregg told CNN it is treating five patients: a 25-year-old woman in satisfactory condition; a 6-month-old boy in critical condition in the intensive care unit; a 37-year-old man in serious condition in the intensive care unit; a 58-year-old man in serious condition in the intensive care unit; and an 81-year-old man in critical condition in the intensive care unit.

At least six houses were destroyed in the landslide, and as many as 16 were damaged, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office reported earlier Sunday.

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