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8 killed, 18 missing in Washington state landslide

8 killed, 18 missing in Washington state landslide
A devastating mudslide in the state of Washington has killed at least eight people. Eighteen others are missing as houses were buried under rubble. The incident prompted the evacuation of a nearby town in case of a “potentially catastrophic flood event.”

The 45-meter-long landslide in the northwest of Washington state has decimated the area, swallowing six houses, blocking a main road and damming a river.

The mudslide struck near the town of Oso, about 90km north of Seattle at 11:00 am local time (18:00 GMT) on Saturday. The first rescuers on the scene said they could hear people screaming for help under the wreckage.

Members of a swift water rescue team look on as an ambulance drives past after a large mudslide blocked Highway 530 near Oso, Washington March 22, 2014. (Reuters / Jason Redmond)

The local authorities initially reported that two people had been killed in the incident, but it later emerged that one man died in hospital of his injuries. Three more people, including a six-month-old boy are currently in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center. Rescuers continue to search for any sign of survivors.

The governor of Washington State, Jay Inslee, tweeted his condolences to the families affected by the landslide.

Such a tragedy in Oso. On behalf of all Washingtonians, my condolences to the families who lost loved ones in Snohomish Co. mudslide today.

— Governor Inslee (@GovInslee) March 22, 2014

"We have people who are yelling for our help, and we are going to take extreme risks," said Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots at a news briefing.

Debris from the mudslide has dammed the Stillaguamish River, which is threating to flood low-lying areas nearby. Authorities have told residents and businesses in the towns of Oso and Stanwood to seek higher ground until Sunday morning.

A spokesperson for Snohomish County told local newspaper, The Herald, that the landslide had created conditions for a “catastrophic flood event.”

State geologists are now working on finding the cause of the landslide. At present local authorities believe that the principle cause of the incident was the large amount of rainfall the region has received this month.

Officials survey a large mudslide in this handout photo provided by the Washington State Police near Oso, Washington March 22, 2014. (Reuters / Washington State Police / Handout via Reuters)