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US mudslide death toll to increase 'substantially'

DARRINGTON , United States--Emergency managers on Thursday said they were close to announcing a “substantially” higher death toll from the monster U.S. landslide that killed at least 16 and left 90 missing.

The confirmed number of dead stands at 16 with at least eight more bodies believed located after the massive mudslide crashed onto the town of Oso in the northwestern U.S. state of Washington.

But Snohomish County District 21 Fire Chief Travis Hots said bodies were not being included in the official death toll until they had been recovered and “medical officers have done their difficult work.”

“That number is going to be likely change very very much tomorrow morning,” Hots said late Thursday, after warning that the death toll would rise “substantially.”

A total of 49 dwellings in the rural town were hit by the square-mile (2.5-square-kilometer) wall of mud, rocks and trees, which also destroyed part of a highway about 60 miles (95 kilometers) northeast of Seattle.

Physically and Mentally Difficult

More than 200 rescue workers have been working in grim conditions for the last five days. A few survivors were found immediately after the mudslide, but none since Saturday.

Rescue volunteer Kraig Wenrick said the task was both physically and mentally difficult, as they dug “right into the heart” of the landslide mass.

“That's what we've got to prepare our minds for ... finding bodies. If they're there,” he told AFP in Darrington, the town on the east side of the slide.

“Ultimately we'd like to find survivors,” he said, but added: “It's getting hard to know.”

Emergency officials have come in for criticism as the rescue operation drags on, with some locals frustrated that they have not been allowed to help in the search.

Authorities also defended themselves against suggestions they could have given more warning about the landslide. A 2010 report following a 2006 mudslide identified the Oso region as facing a major risk.

Quake Didn't Trigger Landslide

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Four search and rescue workers wade through water covering Washington Highway 530 on Thursday, March 27, on the eastern edge of the massive mudslide that struck Saturday near Darrington, Washington, as heavy equipment moves trees and other debris in the background.

(AP)

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