UPDATE: Washington State Mudslide: At Least 16 Dead, Up To 176 Still Missing

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    Workers dig through debris using heavy equipment in the mudslide near Oso, Washington on March 25, 2014.
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    Officials survey a large mudslide near Oso, Washington, March 22, 2014. The mudslide pushed debris and at least one house onto Highway 530 Saturday morning, according to local news reports. Search and rescue crews responded to the scene.
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Update as of 9:44 p.m. EDT: Media reports, citing Travis Hots, the district fire chief for Snohomish County, said Tuesday night that two more bodies had been recovered from the site of the mudslide, taking the death toll from the disaster so far to 16. A report from NBC News added that eight more bodies were believed to have been found but had not yet been retrieved.

"We haven't lost hope that we could find somebody alive in some pocket area," Hots reportedly said, before adding: "we are coming to the realization that that may not be a possibility."

 

This may be one of the worst disasters in Washington state history, excluding, of course, the catastrophic 1980 Mount St. Helens volcano eruption.

Rescue workers sifted through mucky rubble on Tuesday with dwindling hopes of finding any more survivors from among scores of people still missing from a devastating mudslide Saturday in Washington state that has claimed the lives of at least 14, Reuters reported.

About a dozen workers searched overnight for as many as 176 people reported missing since a rain-soaked hillside collapsed on Saturday morning, swallowing dozens of homes near Oso, Snohomish County Executive John Lovick said.

Compounding their sense of urgency was a fear of flooding as water levels rose behind a crude dam of mud and rubble that had been dumped into the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River by the slide in an area along State Route 530, about 55 miles northeast of Seattle, in the Pacific Northwest state.

Authorities said they were hoping the number of people listed as missing would decline as they had perhaps been double-counted or had been slow to alert family and officials about their whereabouts, Reuters reported.

The rescuers had failed to locate any more people in the rubble early on Tuesday.

John PenningtonSnohomish County's director of emergency management, said that after three days, the operation is shifting from a rescue operation to a recovery mission.

"I never lose faith and a lot of the people in this community will never lose faith, but there's a realism element that's entered in," he told NBC's "Today" show on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

"We have responded as well as we can, and we will continue to do that, but ... we are turning that very delicate corner in the recovery operation," Pennington said.

'Dealing With Devastation'

Search crews and volunteers were "dealing with devastation" on the ground, Pennington said, adding they cannot use heavy equipment because of the conditions and must work by hand.

President Barack Obama, who was in Europe on Monday 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.

More than 100 properties were hit by the mudslide. Eight people were injured.

A 22-week-old baby injured in the slide remained in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle after being taken there by helicopter along with his mother, who also was hurt, the hospital said early on Tuesday.

(Note: Reuters reports were included in this story.)

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