Authorities said Monday that there are 108 names on the list of people reported missing or unaccounted for after the fatal landslide in northwest Washington state over the weekend. That number was quickly picked up by countless news outlets and agencies (including ours) and ricocheted around social media.
But it’s important to step back for a second and note that the final number of victims is unlikely to be quite that high, something officials stressed when they discussed the number.
In the wake of catastrophic events like the landslide, it can take time to confirm the exact number of people who are actually missing and the people who simply can’t be reached. After the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Tex., last year, at one point 60 people were believed to be missing. That was lowered to “maybe one or two” later that same day. More than a dozen people couldn’t be reached in the hours after an explosion leveled two buildings in Harlem this month, but officials declined to provide exact numbers that and the following day since it was unclear who just hadn’t been found yet.
“This doesn’t mean there are 108 injuries or 108 fatalities,” John Pennington, director of emergency management for Snohomish County, said in a news conference Monday.
Rather, it’s 108 reports of people who may be missing, which ranges from detailed information about people who do live in the landslide path to reports from someone who thinks they know someone who may live in that area, he said.
“It’s a soft 108…The number is, I think, no question is going to decline dramatically,” Pennington said.
The area possibly impacted by the landslide covers more than 100 land parcels, at least 49 of which had a home or some other structure on it, according to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.