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Rescuers in Washington are in a desperate race to find survivors

Rescuers in Washington are in a desperate race to find survivors of a deadly landslide

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Sunday, March 23, 2014, 8:06 PM -

Eighteen people were unaccounted for a day after a terrifying wall of mud, trees and debris destroyed as many as 30 houses in rural northwestern Washington state and killed at least three people, authorities said Sunday. 

Because of the quicksand-like mud, authorities said it was too dangerous to send rescuers into the stricken area. Searchers instead flew over the 2.6-square-kilometre mudslide in helicopters, looking for signs of life. 

Some of the missing may have been able to get out on their own, authorities said.

RELATED: Search for Washington landslide survivors amid cries for help

Authorities were also trying to determine how to get responders on the ground safely, Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said. 

Officials described the mudslide as "a big wall of mud and debris'' that blocked about 1.6 kilometres of State Route 530 near the town of Oso, about 90 kilometres north of Seattle. It was reported about 60 18 metres deep in some areas. 

Authorities believe the slide was caused by groundwater saturation from recent heavy rainfall. 

Several people -- including an infant -- were critically injured and as many as 30 houses were destroyed. One neighbourhood "is not there anymore,'' Hots said.

SEE ALSO: At least three dead in massive Washington landslide, eight others injured

About 20 to 30 people have been displaced, Snohomish County Executive John Lovick said. 

The number of missing could change because some people may have been in cars and on roads when the slide hit just before 11 a.m. Saturday, Hots said. 

Snohomish County authorities said the area has a history of unstable land. A slide also happened there in 2006. 

With files from The Associated Press

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