ARLINGTON, Wash. — The death toll stood at 14 and was likely to rise Tuesday as search crews prepared to continue painstaking and dangerous search efforts at the scene of a massive mudslide that obliterated the tiny village of Oso on Saturday.
John Pennington, Snohomish County Emergency Management director, said the county had 176 reports of missing people, but added that many were probably duplicates.
"We're trying to whittle that down," he said.
President Obama signed an emergency declaration ordering federal aid to the area. The National Guard arrived overnight.
The collapse followed weeks of heavy rain. Still, Pennington had described the disaster as "completely unforeseen." The Seattle Times, however, reported that multiple geological reports had warned that the area was at risk.
"No language seems more prescient than what appears in a 1999 report filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, warning of 'the potential for a large catastrophic failure,' the Times reported.
Lynne Rodgers Miller, who wrote the report with her husband Daniel, told the Timesthat when she saw the news of the mudslide Saturday morning, she knew immediately where the land had given way.
"We've known it would happen at some point," he told newspaper. "We just didn't know when."
Rain and muddy, unstable terrain have slowed rescue and recovery efforts. The landslide, which consumed a community of almost 50 homes, covers an 1-square mile area about 55 miles northeast of Seattle.
The rain, which is predicted to be as much as 4 inches over the next several days, could further liquefy the earth in the area and also bring the potential of flooding along the north fork of the Stillaguamish River, which runs through Oso.
"Our crews are up against an enormous challenge, it's like quicksand out there," Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said.
Crews have to move extremely carefully as they work. "Some of my guys could only go 50 feet in five minutes," he said,because of the debris and danger of being sucked into the mud.
Search and rescue teams had to pull back Monday because of concern about the hillside moving, Pennington said. Gov. Jay Inslee assured area residents that were dozens of teams on the scene and more were coming.
"We should have additional search capabilities through the National Guard for our rescue and extraction efforts," Inslee said in a statement. "We will also have a boost in our incident command structure, and we will most probably have an additional urban search and rescue team to be on site."
"We've got earth-moving equipment and we've got lots of people with local knowledge of that specific area," said Hots. That has been helpful as they can point out homes that were not occupied so researchers could focus on areas where people might be trapped, he said.
Pennington paused when asked whether there might still be survivors.
"Most of us in these communities believe we will not find anyone alive," he said. "But I am a man of faith and I believe in miracles."