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Caution And Concern Prevail In Days Following Washington Landslide


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Rescue teams in Washington State are still searching the one square mile debris field left from Saturday's massive landslide. The site remains very dangerous and progress has been slow. The death toll has risen to 14. And emergency officials say there are more than 100 names on their list of those unaccounted for or missing.

CORNISH: NPR's Martin Kaste is about two miles downstream from the site of the slide, in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. And, Martin, that's a striking number of people listed as missing. What more can you tell us about that number? And what does it tell us about the scale of this disaster?

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Well, officials are very clear that this is a soft number. This is a consolidated list of names that have come in to them as possibly missing. Some of the names are very precise. Some are vague. We knew somebody who used to live in that neighborhood, what happened to him. So it's very unlikely that the death toll will be anywhere near that high. At the same time, though, officials here are steeling people for the likelihood that the death toll will be rising quite a bit.

As they point out, this was a Saturday morning. A lot of people were home. A lot of contractors were working on houses. There was traffic on this highway. So the number will go up.

CORNISH: At this point in the rescue operation, is their hope of still finding people alive?

KASTE: They still call this a rescue operation, but there have not been any survivors found alive since the horrible scenes on Saturday. We're now hearing more stories about what happened there. There were voices. There were people crying for help. People outside the slide came rushing in, trying to reach friends and loved ones. In some cases, had to be restrained and threatened with arrest because the site was so dangerous.

It's an extremely treacherous, shifting area, this debris field. It's almost like quicksand mixed with timber. It's very dangerous for any kind of rescue operation. But they are still searching it, both from the air and now with dogs.

CORNISH: Now, we're going to hear about the geology of this area in just a minute. But tell us more about the terrain. What's it like?

KASTE: Well, it's a gorgeous area and that's the danger. I'm sitting here on the edge of the field looking at the back end of the hill that collapsed. Right beyond it are the snowcapped mountains of the Cascades. It's a narrowing of this valley. And it's the kind of place where if a hillside, which has been weakened by rain, gives way, it is still the valley.

This highway I'm standing on here, two miles from here, it's covered some say maybe 20 feet deep in debris and mud, and for a good mile along that stretch. So it's a very tight place and a very bad place for this to happen.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Martin Kaste in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. Martin, thank you.

KASTE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.