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OSO, Wash. (AP) — First there was a "whoosh." Elaine Young said she thought it might be a chimney fire, a rush of air that lasted about 45 seconds. But when she stepped outside there was ominous silence. Something felt very, very wrong.
 
And then she saw it. Behind the house, a suffocating wall of heavy mud had crashed through the neighborhood.
 
Dark and sticky, the mile-long flow Saturday heaved houses off their foundations, toppled trees and left a gaping cavity on what had been a tree-covered hillside. In the frantic rescue, searchers spotted mud-covered survivors by the whites of their waving palms.
 
Now, days into the search, the scale of the mudslide's devastation in a rural village north of Seattle is becoming apparent. At least 14 people are confirmed dead, dozens more are thought to be unaccounted for or missing, and about 30 homes are destroyed.
 
"We found a guy right here," shouted a rescuer Monday afternoon behind Young's home, after a golden retriever search dog found a corpse pinned under a pile of fallen trees. Searchers put a bag over the body, tied an orange ribbon on a branch to mark the site, and the crew moved on.
 
It had been stormy for weeks, but warm sunshine offered a false sense of peace Saturday morning as weekend visitors settled into their vacation homes and locals slept in. Then came "a giant slump," said David Montgomery, an earth and space sciences professor at the University of Washington, describing the deep-seated slide resulting from long-term, heavy rainfall.
 
A scientist who documented the landslide conditions on the hillside that buckled had warned in a 1999 report filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of "the potential for a large catastrophic failure," The Seattle Times reported late Monday.
 
That report was written by geomorphologist Daniel J. Miller and his wife, Lynne Rodgers Miller, The Times said (http://is.gd/yodBQx). "We've known it would happen at some point," Daniel Miller told the newspaper.
 
Snohomish County Executive John Lovick and Public Works Director Steve Thomsen said Monday night they were not aware of the 1999 report. "A slide of this magnitude is very difficult to predict," Thomsen told The Times. "There was no indication, no indication at all."
 
Within hours of the mudslide, emergency crews were searching for life in a post-apocalyptic scene, dodging chunks of splintered birch trunks, half-buried pickup trucks and growing pools of water from the now-blocked Stillaguamish River.
 
Ed Hrivnak, who was co-piloting an aircraft that was first to arrive at the scene, said a lot of the houses weren't buried. When they got hit, "the houses exploded." He said cars were crushed into little pieces, their tires the only signs that they had been vehicles.
 
He said he saw people so thoroughly covered in mud that searchers could only spot them by the whites of their waving palms. His helicopter rescued eight people, including a 4-year-old boy, who was up to his knees in concretelike compressed mud.
 
The mud was so sticky, the rescuers were worried about getting stuck so the helicopter hovered about a foot away and the crew chief tried to pull him out. "He was suctioned in that mud so much that his pants came off," Hrivnak said.
 
The boy was taken to a hospital and was reunited with his mom. Hrivnak said the boy's father and three siblings are still missing.
 
Friends and families immediately launched their own rescue missions.
 
Elaine and her husband, Don Young, picking their way through the devastation, heard tapping, a steady beat. They got closer and realized it was coming from their neighbors' buckled home.
 
Trapped in an air pocket, Gary "Mac" McPherson, 78, was banging away for help with a loose stick. The Youngs managed to pull him out, but family members said his wife, Linda McPherson, 69, a former librarian and school board member, did not survive.
 
Rescuers racing in fire trucks and ambulances screeched to a stop at the edge of the mile-square wasteland. Somewhere, someone was crying for help. When a team of firefighters waded chest-deep into the mud, they had to be rescued themselves, and the ground search was suspended overnight Saturday, with the death toll at three.
 
On Sunday, after geologists deemed the area stable enough to re-enter, another five bodies were found. By Monday, when another six corpses were located, exhaustion and despair were overtaking the early adrenaline and alarm.
 
Nichole Webb Rivera frantically texted her two adult sons, her daughter and her daughter's fiance in the area to make sure they were OK. She heard back from her sons, but nothing from the other two.
 
And no one has been able to reach Rivera's parents, who live in a house along the Stillaguamish River, smack in the middle of where the slide came crashing down. Relatives called around, but the somber reality soon set in.
 
"We've lost four," said Rivera, who grew up in Darrington, a logging town of about 1,400 people just to the east of the landslide.
 
Rivera has had no official confirmation from authorities. But when she saw an aerial photograph of Saturday's landslide, she knew her parents, Thom and Marcy Satterlee, and her daughter, 20-year-old Delaney Webb, and Webb's fiance didn't make it out.
 
"It sounds terribly morbid, but looking at it, I'm resigned," said Rivera, 39.
 
An American flag, salvaged unstained from the wreckage, had been draped over a buckled shed. "The situation is very grim," said Fire Chief Travis Hots, unshaven and with dark circles around his eyes. "We have not found anyone alive on this pile since Saturday."
 
Chain saws buzzed as friends and families cut toppled houses open on Monday. Buddy, a large chocolate Labrador, was pulled muddy and cut from under the ruins Sunday after a house was cut open. His owner has not been found.
 
McPherson, still hospitalized, abruptly a widower, asked his nephew Cory Kuntz to see if he could pull anything out of his home.
 
A box of slides, some photos, files and his deceased aunt's wallet piled up. Kuntz glanced at the gap in the roof that his uncle was yanked through. Then he looked out at the confusion of muddy detritus that included the smashed remains of his own home as well.
 
"When you look at it you just kind of go in shock and you kind of go numb," Kuntz said.
 
Gail Moffett, a retired firefighter who lives in Oso and works at the hardware store in Arlington, said she knows about 25 people who are missing. Among them, Moffett said, were entire families, including people with young children.
 
Moffett said some of the people who are missing were working in the area Saturday morning.
 
"There's so much pain going on in the community right now," she said.
 
Darlene Elrod stood above the wreckage, scratching her head and just looking and staring in disbelief as she tried to orient herself and point out an entire neighborhood.
 
"It's gone," she said.
Read more...
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Bad weather suspended the search Tuesday for any remains of a Malaysian jetliner as China demanded information a day after Malaysia's leader said the heartbreaking conclusion was that Flight 370 had crashed in the southern Indian Ocean with no survivors.
 
Planes and ships have been crisscrossing a remote area of ocean 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Australia, but the search was called off because of waves up to 4 meters (12 feet), high winds and heavy rain.
 
The suspension comes after a somber announcement late Monday by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak saying the plane had crashed in the sea, but which also left unanswered many troubling questions about why the Boeing 777, which was en route to Beijing on March 8 when it disappeared, was so far off-course.
 
It also unleashed a storm of sorrow and anger among the families of the jet's 239 passengers and crew — two-thirds of them Chinese.
 
China responded Tuesday by demanding that Malaysia turn over the satellite data used to conclude that the jet had gone down in the southern Indian Ocean.
 
Given that 153 of the passengers aboard Flight 370 were Chinese, the incident was a highly emotional one for Beijing. Family members of the missing passengers have complained bitterly about a lack of reliable information and some say they are not being told the whole truth.
 
Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Hangsheng told Malaysia's ambassador to Beijing that China wanted to know exactly what led Najib to announce that the plane had been lost, a statement on the ministry's website said.
 
"We demand the Malaysian side to make clear the specific basis on which they come to this judgment," Xie was quoted as telling Iskandar Bin Sarudin during their meeting late Monday.
 
There was no immediate response from Malaysia.
 
The families planned to march on the Malaysian Embassy on Tuesday, and dozens of police were already outside the embassy compound.
 
Najib, clad in a black suit, read a brief statement on what he called an unparalleled study of the jet's last-known signals to a satellite. That analysis showed that the missing plane veered "to a remote location, far from any possible landing sites."
 
"It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, Flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean," he said.
 
He did not directly address the fate of those aboard, but in a separate message sent to some of the relatives of the passengers, Malaysia Airlines said that "we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived."
 
The conclusions were based on a more-thorough analysis of the brief signals the plane sent every hour to a satellite belonging to Inmarsat, a British company, even after other communication systems on the jetliner shut down for unknown reasons.
 
The pings did not include any location information. But Inmarsat and British aviation officials used "a type of analysis never before used in an investigation of this sort" to zero in on the plane's last direction, as it reached the end of its fuel, Najib said.
 
In a statement, Inmarsat said the company used "detailed analysis and modelling" of transmissions from the Malaysia Airlines jet and other known flights to describe "the likely direction of flight of MH370."
 
Najib gave no indication of exactly where in the Indian Ocean the plane was last heard from.
 
Australian Transport Minister Warren Truss said that under international agreements governing air travel "Malaysia needs to take control" and decide how to proceed.
 
High waves, gale-force winds and low-hanging clouds forced the multinational search to be suspended for 24 hours Tuesday, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said in a statement.
 
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he had spoken to Najib to offer help with the ongoing search and investigation.
 
"What up until now has been a search, moves into a recovery and investigation phase," Abbott said. "I have offered Malaysia, as the country legally responsible for this, every assistance and cooperation from Australia."
 
Abbott also said Australia would waive visa fees for relatives of the passengers and crew on Flight 370 who wanted to come to Australia.
 
Some of the relatives who gathered to hear Najib met the news with shrieks and uncontrolled sobs. Others collapsed into the arms of loved ones.
 
"My son! My son!" cried a woman in a group of about 50 gathered at a hotel near Beijing's airport, before falling to her knees. Minutes later, medical teams carried one elderly man out of the conference room on a stretcher, his face covered by a jacket.
 
Other relatives in Beijing went before cameras to criticize the Malaysian officials who "have concealed, delayed and hid the truth" about what happened to the plane. About two-thirds of the passengers on board were Chinese.
 
"If the 154 of our loved ones lose their lives, then Malaysia Airlines, the government of Malaysia and the military are really the executors of our loved ones," said a spokesman for the group who, like many Chinese, would give only his surname, Jiang. China includes one Taiwanese national in its total of Chinese on the flight.
 
Najib's announcement did nothing to answer why the plane disappeared shortly after takeoff. More specifically, it sheds no light on investigators' questions about possible mechanical or electrical failure, hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or someone else on board.
 
And it is not clear if the latest information can provide an exact location or just a rough estimate of where the jet crashed into the sea.
 
But several countries had already been moving specialized equipment into the area to prepare for a possible search for the plane and its black boxes, the common name for the cockpit voice and data recorders.
 
And there is a race against the clock to find any trace of the plane that could lead them to the location of the black boxes, whose battery-powered "pinger" could stop sending signals within two weeks. The batteries are designed to last at least a month and can last longer.
 
An Australian navy support vessel, the Ocean Shield, was expected to arrive in several days in the search zone, a defense official said. The ship is equipped with acoustic detection equipment that can search for the black boxes. Without them, it would be virtually impossible for investigators to say definitively what happened to the plane.
 
"We've got to get lucky," said John Goglia, a former member of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. "It's a race to get to the area in time to catch the black box pinger while it's still working."
 
The U.S. Pacific Command said before Najib's announcement that it was sending a black box locator in case a debris field is located.
 
The Towed Pinger Locator, which is pulled behind a vessel at slow speeds, has highly sensitive listening capability that can hear the black box pinger down to a depth of about 20,000 feet (6,100 meters), Cmdr. Chris Budde, a U.S. 7th Fleet operations officer, said in a statement. He called it "a prudent effort to pre-position equipment and trained personnel closer to the search area."
 
The U.S. Navy has also sent an unmanned underwater vehicle to Perth that could be used if debris is located, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman. The Bluefin-21, expected to arrive in Perth on Wednesday, has side-scanning sonar and what is called a "multi-beam echo sounder" that can be used to take a closer look at objects under water, he added. It can operate at a depth of 4,500 meters (14,700 feet).
 
The search for the wreckage and the plane's recorders could take years because the ocean can extend to up to 7,000 meters (23,000 feet) deep in that part of the ocean. It took two years to find the black box from an Air France jet that went down in the Atlantic Ocean on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in 2009, and searchers knew within days where the crash site was.
Read more...

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak says a new analysis of satellite data shows that the missing Malaysia Airlines plane plunged into the southern Indian Ocean.

If confirmed, the news would be a major breakthrough in the unprecedented two-week struggle to find out what happened to Flight 370, which disappeared shortly after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew aboard.

Read more...

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