Fire chief: Death toll from slide expected to rise

Fire chief: Death toll from slide expected to rise
Iraq War veteran and local Little League coach Matt Pater, 32, searches through debris following Saturday's destructive mudslide, near Oso Wash, Monday, March 24, 2014. (AP Photo/seattlepi.com, Joshua Trujillo)
ARLINGTON, Wash. (AP) - The death toll of 14 from a massive Washington state mudslide is expected to increase as crews continue to search through the soupy, debris-laden field and rainy conditions complicate matters for searchers on the ground and in the air.

"We're expecting that number to go up throughout the day," Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said Tuesday.

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.

Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington said officials expect to have an updated list later Tuesday.

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. Some who went in got caught up to their armpits in the thick, sticky sludge.

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.

Hots said dozens of searchers will continue throughout the day. The dry, sunny weather has turned to rain, which was expected to continue throughout the day.

"It's going to further complicate things, slow things down a bit," Hots said.