Washington mudslide: 14 dead and hundreds still missing as search crews admit the death toll is likely to rise

“I believe in miracles and I believe people can survive these events,” said Snohomish County's director of emergency management

Rescue workers in the US state of Washington combed through muck and rubble on Tuesday, after at least 14 people were killed and 176 were reported still missing following Saturday's mudslide.

With no change overnight in the number of people missing, local fire chief Travis Hots said he expected the fatality count to rise throughout the day in the slide area, about 55 miles (90 km) northeast of Seattle.

The incident saw dozens of homes swallowed near the town of Oso, Snohomish County Executive John Lovick said.

Shards of wood and tangled brush covered a square-mile zone of devastation zone that once contained a meandering river, a state road and rural homes.

 

“The operational plan for the day is going to be challenging. The weather's changed and we've got some rain coming in. That's going to make it even more challenging for our folks that are on the ground there,” Hots told reporters.

Authorities said they were hoping the number of people listed as missing would decline as some may have been double-counted or were slow to alert family and officials of their whereabouts. Eight people were injured.

“I believe in miracles and I believe people can survive these events,” John Pennington, Snohomish County's director of emergency management, told reporters.

But after three days, the operation was shifting from a rescue operation to a recovery mission, officials said. Rescuers failed to locate any more people in the rubble by early Tuesday.

Hots, the fire chief, said authorities were forced to turn away many volunteers due to unstable ground conditions and fears of another landslide that could sweep away people searching the mud and debris.

“The last thing that we want to have happen is people showing up in their cars and sneaking up on the pile, and they're up there working independently on their own,” he said.

Search crews and volunteers were “dealing with devastation” on the ground, said Pennington, the emergency management director, noting they cannot use heavy equipment because of the conditions, and must work by hand.

President Barack Obama, who was in Europe for a meeting with world leaders, signed an emergency declaration ordering U.S. government assistance to supplement state and local relief efforts, the White House said.

The disaster is one of the deadliest US landslides since 10 people died when falling earth engulfed homes in the coastal community of La Conchita, California, in 2005.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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