ARLINGTON, Wash. — A huge mudslide that roared down from a rain-saturated mountain slope near here, leaving four people dead and at least 18 others missing, remained a site of both devastation and continued extreme danger Sunday, state and local officials said.
The slide, about a square mile in size, reduced homes to shattered fragments in seconds, buried a state highway and dammed the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, posing flood risks upstream and downstream. But the rescue effort quickly also became a scene of havoc, with some emergency workers sinking up to their armpits in the slurrylike mud and requiring rescue themselves as they were pulled out with ropes.
"Mother Nature holds the cards," Gov. Jay Inslee said at a news briefing here, about 20 miles from the slide. He said rescue efforts were continuing, but emergency officials said portions of the slide area were still too treacherous to walk on. Inslee, who flew over the community of Oso, population about 200, declared a state of emergency and called the destruction "unrelenting and awesome."
The slide was reported around 10:45 a.m. Saturday along a highway between the cities of Arlington and Darrington, about 50 miles north of Seattle.
"There really is no stick standing in the path of the slide," Inslee said.
Eight people, including a 6-month-old, were rescued Saturday by emergency crews. The baby and an 81-year-old man were in critical condition Sunday at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, the hospital said.
The mudslide destroyed six houses, and other structures were most likely damaged, including some in the flooded areas above the dammed river.
There were early signs of hope. Rescuers could hear people crying for help amid the rubble Saturday, but were unable to reach them, said Shari Ireton, a spokeswoman for the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office. County Executive John Lovick told reporters Sunday afternoon that no further cries had been heard since overnight.
He and Inslee urged residents in the slide zone who might have been away to check in with local emergency officials or the Red Cross. Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary said that the number of missing people was a "fluid" number, based on how many people lived in the destroyed homes, and that the tally could change.
Officials said the cause of the slide was believed to be groundwater saturation from heavy rainfall in the area. Landslides happen regularly in Washington, but they are usually smaller or take place in remote areas.