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Washington mudslide death toll to rise 'substantially'

  • 3-28-2014

The number of fatalities in a mudslide in Washington state will rise "substantially" in the next two days, authorities say.

Sixteen bodies have been recovered and another nine bodies have been found but not yet retrieved.

Some 90 people remain missing after the 177ft (54m) wall of mud hit the town of Oso, north of Seattle.

Hopes of discovering any more survivors have faded as the search entered day six on Thursday.

Workers have been scouring the area for victims, using search dogs and heavy excavation equipment.

Local fire chief Travis Hots said the death toll would increase substantially within the next 24-28 hours as the medical examiner catches up with the recovery effort.

Authorities have so far identified one victim, 45-year-old Christina Jefferds.

Ms Jefferds, who the Seattle Times reportswas a dental office manager, died of blunt impact injuries, says the medical examiner.

But on Thursday, family members confirmed to local media that searchers had discovered the body of Ms Jefferds's four-month-old granddaughter, Sanoah Violet Huestis, whom she had been babysitting at the time of the mudslide.

Died together

Nichole Webb Rivera, 39, told the BBC the search continued for her family members who have not been heard from since Saturday.

Ms Rivera's daughter Delaney Webb, 20, and her fiance Alan Bejvl were visiting Ms Rivera's parents for the weekend when disaster truck.

Webb and Bejvl planned to wed on 16 August at Ms Rivera's parents home on the river, Ms Rivera said.

Her parents, Thom and Marcy Satterlee, were married 41 years and had lived in the area for three decades.

"If they could choose a way to go out, it would be like that, really fast and in the place they loved. Together," she said.

The mudslide on Saturday destroyed about 30 houses, temporarily damming a river and leaving a square mile field of muck and debris in its wake.

"This disaster is so enormous, I sometimes think even the pictures don't always do it justice," said Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, who represents the area.

"The number of families that have been impacted, the number of people that they've lost, the number of people who are still missing. It's truly, truly heartbreaking."

'No bodies'

The mile debris field is pocked with deep pits of water and strewn with sharp and dangerous wreckage, including fallen trees, propane and septic tanks, destroyed vehicles and smashed timber.

Survivors were last pulled alive from the mud on Saturday.

Another one of those watching the recovery effort in the hope of a miracle is Becky Bach, whose brother and wife are unaccounted for.

"Realistically I honestly don't think they're going to find them alive," she said.

"But as a family, we're trying to figure out what to do if they find no bodies."

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Reproduced under licence from BBC News © 2014 BBC

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