A rush of mud, trees and rocks swept over a small Washington community Saturday morning, killing at least three and leaving about 18 others missing. Even with so many still unaccounted for, rescue workers said that the situation was still too volatile to send individuals out onto mudflow they said was "like quicksand" to search for individuals.
Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots told the Associated Press that "we suspect that people are out there, but it's far too dangerous to get responders out there on that mudflow."
So first responders have turned to helicopters to search for any signs of life, all while they try to figure out a way to get rescuers safely onto the mudflow.
Several people were critically injured and as many as 30 houses were destroyed by the slide, which was 60 feet deep in places. The flood of debris also prompted evacuations after it clogged the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, leading water to rise rapidly behind the mass of earth.
One eyewitness told the Daily Herald that he was driving on the roadway and had to quickly brake to avoid the mudslide.
"I just saw the darkness coming across the road. Everything was gone in three seconds," Paulo Falcao told the newspaper.
According to Jonathan Erdman, senior meteorologist for weather.com, western Washington experienced an abundance of wet weather in March. "Through March 21, Seattle was only 0.69 inches away from tying their wettest March on record, set in 1950," said Erdman.
Authorities believe that slide was caused by ground water saturation from that recent spell of wet weather. John Pennington from the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management said the area has a history of unstable land. He said a slide also happened there in 2006.
Pennington said the most recent incident happened without warning.
"This slide came out of nowhere," he said.
Authorities urged members of communities downstream from the clogged river to evacuated amidst flooding concerns, but said that they could return to their homes during daylight hours Sunday.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for Snohomish County through Sunday afternoon, but cataclysmic flooding wasn't expected.
Below are photos gathered from social media:
MORE: Washington Mudslide
The first trooper on the scene tries to help. (Photo: Trooper Mark Francis, Washington State Patrol District 7 PIO for Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom & Island counties.)
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.