VIDEO

Landslide death toll in Washington state rises to at least 14

The wall of mud, rocks and trees smashed into the rural town of Oso, northeast of Seattle in the northwestern US state, destroying houses and part of a highway. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS 
The wall of mud, rocks and trees smashed into the rural town of Oso, northeast of Seattle in the northwestern US state, destroying houses and part of a highway. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS 

ARLINGTON, United States (AFP) - The death toll from a devastating landslide in the northwestern US state of Washington rose to 14 on Monday after six more bodies were found, the local sheriff said.

More than 100 people remain potentially missing or unaccounted for after the disaster Saturday, described as "like a small earthquake," said Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary.

"Search and rescue crews have located an additional six bodies, bringing the total number of deceased to 14," he said in an online update in the disaster which struck on Saturday.

"The number unaccounted for has not changed, as the identity of the victims still needs to be verified," he added.

The death toll had remained at eight since Sunday, while officials said earlier they had a list of 108 names of people missing or unaccounted for.

The wall of mud, rocks and trees smashed into the rural town of Oso, northeast of Seattle in the northwestern US state, destroying houses and part of a highway.

Some 100 emergency workers were searching for survivors in the field of mud and rubble about 2.4 kilometers across and some four to six meters deep in areas.

"The situation is very grim," said Snohomish County fire district chief Travis Hots.

"We're holding out hope that we'll find people that are still alive, but we haven't found anyone alive since Saturday."

Emergency management chief John Pennington said earlier that officials had drawn up a list of 108 names reported missing or unaccounted, although they are not necessarily actually missing.

A total of 49 dwellings of various types in the area were hit by the devastating landslide, he said, adding that there were likely to have been more people at home on a Saturday than during the week.

Mini hovercraft were used to skate across the vast mudslide's surface, while tracker dogs and helicopters were also being used.

Rescuers reported hearing voices calling for help on Saturday, but Hots said they "didn't see or hear any signs of life" on Sunday.

Among the missing was a four-month-old baby and her grandmother, local media reported.

Oso resident Doug Dix, whose house was a couple of hundred yards from the slide, said he was working in his barn when he heard a huge rumbling noise.

"My first impression was I thought we were having a small earthquake. The barn was vibrating," the semi-retired wildlife toxicologist said.

"Then I went outside and it sounded to me like one of those twin-prop helicopters coming down ... It was unbelievably noisy."

The noise went on for about a minute.

"I was looking up in the air trying to find a plane crash," he said.

Dix said he "would be surprised" if the figure of over 100 unaccounted for remained that high.

"They were saying initially 18 people missing, which seems more reasonable," he said.

Shari Ireton of the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office said the 108 figure could include double counting, as it was the result of combining a number of lists of people missing, not always with full names.

"Some of those could be overlapped," she told a lunchtime briefing.

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee, who declared a state of emergency for the area, told reporters there is "a full-scale, 100-percent, aggressive rescue effort" going on, adding that helicopters, hovercrafts and rescue personnel had rushed to the scene.

The muddy area was so unstable that some rescue workers "went in and got caught literally up to their armpits" and had to be pulled out themselves, Inslee said.

"The slide is about a mile wide. Entire neighborhoods are just gone," a firefighter who did not want to be named told The Seattle Times.

"When the slide hit the (Stillaguamish) river, it was like a tsunami."

Rain has been especially heavy in the Cascade Mountains region in the past weeks. The forecast is for more downpours throughout the week.

Patty Murray, who represents Washington in the US Senate, gave assurances that federal resources would be made available, as she offered thanks to rescue workers and her prayers to the families of the ravaged community.