SEATTLE (AP) — Authorities said Sunday that water that built up behind a massive deadly mudslide in Washington state is trickling downstream, but they're not alarmed by it.
The square-mile of mud and debris that killed three people raised fears about potential flooding downstream of Oso, about 55 miles north of Seattle.
Officials said they don't think the water would suddenly burst, but urged residents living in nearby communities to remain alert.
"There's a small amount coming around the north edge of the slide. It's not alarming, and is allowing the water building behind the dam to settle out a bit," said Bronlea Mishler, a spokeswoman for Snohomish County. "It's flowing fairly slowly, and the on-scene folks have no major concerns."
The National Weather Service extended a flash flood watch for Snohomish County into Monday afternoon. Meanwhile, Gov. Jay Inslee urged residents in nearby communities to remain in a "heightened state of awareness" until things fully stabilize.
Saturday's slide destroyed several dozen homes and blocked about a mile of State Route 530. It also dammed the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River.
Inslee said there were no plans to move the debris blocking the river. "The river will find its way over the days and weeks to come," he said at a news briefing Sunday.
Brent Bower, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle, said it's unlikely the water behind the slide will burst and come all at once because it's too wide an area. Even if it did burst, he said, the flow would still be below flood-level downstream.
John Pennington from the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management said the area where the slide occurred has a history of unstable land. He said a slide also happened there in 2006.
Authorities believe the slide was caused by ground water saturation from recent heavy rainfall.
David Montgomery, an earth and space sciences professor at University of Washington in Seattle, said these deep-seated slides tend to occur from rainfall over months or seasons. "It can raise the water table in a slope and that decrease its stability," he said. "This was a big deep one, a giant slump."
There may be many factors, but "the very wet month of March that we had is clearly a factor," he added. All that rain can raise the groundwater table in a slope and undermine its stability, he said.
The weather service's Bower said Sunday about a quarter or half inch of rain is expected in the area Monday night and Tuesday. "It'll make things messy but it's not going to affect the river much," he said.