A massive wall of earth came cascading down on the tiny enclave of Oso about 55 miles northeast of Seattle Washington. Fourteen people are known dead and 176 are reported missing.
More than 150 rescue workers sifting through nearly a square mile of wreckage and debris, which officials are calling “the pile,” have been working day and night in hazardous quick-sand conditions. Officials now acknowledge that they have scant hope that they will find more survivors. To make matters worse, colossal flooding could be lurking as high water levels are mounting behind a transitory dam created by the mud and rubble in the nearby North Fork of the Stillaguamish River.
John Pennington, Snohomish County’s director of emergency management, admitted that after three days of digging and combing the rubble, the operation is shifting from a rescue operation to a recovery mission. “I never lose faith and a lot of the people in this community will never lose faith, but there’s a realism element that’s entered in,” he told NBC’s Today show on Tuesday.
Officials said that more than 100 properties were smothered by the slide and at least 49 had a house cabin or mobile home on them. Pennington says that they are actively searching the properties for survivors but, “We have responded as well as we can, and we will continue to do that, but … we are turning that very delicate corner in the recovery operation.” Washington state Governor Jay Inslee said, “Family members are grieving, trying to focus on finding missing loved ones or working through the process of rebuilding what was lost.”
A report filed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1999 highlighting “the potential for a large catastrophic failure,” was one of the many warnings that the area had received according to the Seattle Times newspaper.
President Barack Obama, who was in Europe on Monday for a meeting with world leaders, signed an emergency declaration ordering U.S. government assistance to supplement state and local relief efforts, the White House said.