Wash. Town Mayor: 'Our Community Is Devastated'
Seven days after a massive wall of mud slammed into a small community near Oso, Wash., evidence has emerged the area was prone to a catastrophic landslide.
"I seriously doubt whether there was anyone who lived there who wasn't aware that there were slides in the area," said one of the authors of a 2010 report warning the county.
Authorities said the official death toll is set to rise Friday from 17. Meanwhile, the frantic search to find survivors continues.
"We can report that 90 people are currently missing or unaccounted for," Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington said.
"As far as I am concerned, I haven't lost hope yet," Pennington told reporters. "And there is a lot of people up there who have not lost hope yet."
"So, we are not going to run heavy equipment over areas where we may collapse something where we may have a survivor," he said.
While hundreds of rescue crews using dogs, helicopters, bulldozers, and sonar cameras scoured the hillside for survivors, an army of ordinary people from neighboring towns also came to help, handing out food, clothes, and blankets.
"They can come here to pick up things, no questions asked, no tickets," volunteer Karen Lewis said. "We know you are dislocated; we'll do what we can to help you."
Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin said that with so many still missing, "Our community is devastated."
"It's such a large thing at this point. We are going to need help," Rankin said.
Even amid all the devastation, there have been moments of joy -- like when rescuers scooped up a 4-year-old boy stranded on a mound of debris.
"He was obviously very, very traumatized," Randy Fay, a helicopter rescue team coordinator in Snohomish County, said.
There were also miraculous tales of survival, like that of 78-year-old Gary "Mac" McPherson who survived despite being buried in debris.
"There was this horrendous noise," he recalled. "And I looked over one shoulder and all the trees were going like this (motions) and the noise kept getting louder and louder."
President Barack Obama has signed an emergency declaration ordering the federal government to assist with local relief efforts.
CBN's Operation Blessing is also sending money and staff to the disaster zone. Its teams will be working with a local pastor in Oso, to help him reach out to his hurting community.
Meanwhile, with each passing hour the hope of finding those missing grows dim. Still, the vigils continue and so do prayers for a miracle.