US & Canada

Washington landslide death toll rises to 14

Authorities in the US state of Washington have found six more bodies after Saturday's huge landslide, bringing the number known to have been killed to 14, say police.

Officials now say as many as 176 people may remain unaccounted for after the 177ft (54m) wall of mud hit near the town of Oso, north of Seattle.

Search crews have worked day and night, using helicopters and laser imaging.

But officials admit they have little hope of finding survivors.

'Devastation beyond imagination'

Speaking during a news conference at a summit in the Netherlands on Tuesday, US President Barack Obama asked all Americans to send their thoughts and prayers to the victims.

"We know that part of this tightly knit community has been lost," he said.

"We hope for the best," he added, "but recognise this is a tough situation."

He has declared an emergency in Washington state and ordered federal authorities to co-ordinate the disaster relief effort.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee - after surveying the area from the air - said it was "devastation beyond imagination".

He said the slide "basically cut a mountain in two" and deposited it on the town below. Nothing in the path of the slide was still standing.

"It's that absolute devastation that causes us all real pain," he said.

Family members and volunteers were using chainsaws and their bare hands to shift the wreckage and try to find those missing.

Cory Kuntz, helped by others, worked with chainsaws to cut through the roof of his uncle's house, which was swept about 450ft (137m) from its location.

He said his aunt, Linda McPherson, had been killed. He and the others pulled files and personal effects from the house.

"When you look at it, you just kind of go in shock," he said.

'Awful lot of grieving'

Gail Moffett, a retired firefighter, said she knew about 25 people who were missing, including entire families with young children.

At a news conference on Monday evening, Snohomish County emergency management director John Pennington said the official list of the missing stood at 176.

But he said he did not think the final death toll would be so high, because some of those listed as unaccounted for would be found to be alive, and other names would prove to be duplicates.

He also said authorities no longer expected to find survivors in the debris.

"We as a community, we as a county, are beginning to realise that we are moving toward a recovery operation," he said.

"There is an awful lot of grieving."

Image copyright AP
Image caption Rescuers believe some people may have been trapped in cars
Image copyright AP
Image caption The size of the landslide became evident from aerial photographs
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Rescue workers, shown here with a dog, have had their efforts hindered by the unstable, water-logged mud and debris that buried the town
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The thick mud covered a square mile and was up to 40ft (12m) deep in places
Image copyright AP
Image caption The wreckage of a home after the mudslide
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Stillaguamish river has begun to push through the dam of mud and debris, relieving the risk of a catastrophic flood, geologist Dave Norman said
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The authorities say the landslide was caused by recent heavy rain
Image copyright AP
Image caption Oso Community Church displays a sign reading "pray with us for our community"
Image copyright AP
Image caption A man walks across the rubble on the east side of the mudslide

The landslide left behind a cliff known as a head scarp 600ft high, Washington state geologist Dave Norman told reporters on Monday afternoon.

"This is one of the biggest landslides I've seen," Mr Norman said.

Authorities are continuing their search-and-rescue operations amid a tangled, waterlogged field of mud and debris, using rescue dogs, aerial photography and laser imaging to help the search.

More than 30 homes were destroyed and more than half the town of Oso is missing - a recent census put its population at 180.

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