Officials say that residents of Oso, the Washington state village where a devastating mudslide claimed at least 14 lives, knew the area was prone to slides, USA Today reported.
The death toll in Saturday's mudslide is expected to rise as hundreds of people are still missing. Bodies could be trapped underneath the mud and collapsed homes in the small town located 55 miles from Seattle. But rescue efforts have been slowed down due to heavy rainfall, which is expected to continue over the next few days.
John Pennington, director of Snohomish County Emergency Management, said the residents knew the area was at "high risk" of landslides.
"This entire year we have pushed message after message that there's a high risk of landslides," Pennington told USA Today. "The dangers and the risks are known."
Pennington said though it is unlikely they will find survivors from Saturday's slide, they are still making rescue efforts.
"I've said it before- I believe in miracles," Pennington told USA Today. "I believe that people can survive these events."
Protection from slides in the area was improved after a smaller mudslide occurred in 2006, Pennington said.
"If I had any idea that this was going to break that Saturday morning...Come on guys, we're very liberal at using reverse 911," he told the newspaper. "There's a reason that we have a very high success rate of mitigating disasters in our county. This is just one that hit us."
According to The Seattle Times, however, warnings of a disastrous slide in the Oso area date back to 1999. A U.S. Army Corp of Engineers report from that year warned of "the potential for a large catastrophic failure."
The report's authors knew exactly where the mudslide occurred when they first heard the news on Saturday.
"We've known it would happen at some point," Daniel J. Miller, who authored the report with his wife, told The Seattle Times. "We just didn't know when."