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Death toll rises in Washington landslide

At least eight people have been killed by a huge landslide that buried cars and houses in mud and debris.

Last updated: 24 Mar 2014 05:46
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US authorities say the death toll from a massive landslide in rural Washington state has doubled to eight.

Eighteen people were still missing on Sunday after rain-soaked embankments along State Route 530 near Oso, about 90km northeast of Seattle, gave way a day earlier and washed out at least six homes.

The slide in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains along the Stillaguamish River piled mud, rock and debris up to 5 meters deep in some places.

Rescue crews were able to get out to the muddy, tree-strewn area after geologists flew over in a helicopter and determined it was safe enough for emergency responders and technical rescue personnel to search for possible survivors, the Associated Press news agency quoted Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots as saying.

"We didn't see or hear any signs of life out there today,'' he said, adding that they did not search the entire debris field, only drier areas safe to traverse.

Despite that, Hots said crews were still in a "search and rescue mode. It has not gone to a recovery mode at this time."

Rescuers' hopes of finding more survivors had been buoyed late Saturday when they heard people yelling for help from within the debris field, but they were unable to reach anyone. The mud was so thick and deep that searchers had to turn back.

The slide wiped through what neighbours described as a former fishing village of small homes, some nearly 100 years old.

Some of the missing may have been able to get out on their own, authorities said. The number unaccounted for could change because some people may have been in cars and on roads when the slide hit, Hots added.

The slide blocked the flow of the river, creating floods and a backup of water behind a natural dam of mud and debris.

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