Washington mudslide death toll reaches 16

Footage from Saturday show a rescue team lifting a boy to safety

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Authorities say they have recovered the bodies of two more people killed in a massive mudslide in the US state of Washington, bringing the total to 16.

The officials said they thought they had located eight more bodies under the mud but were unable to retrieve them.

As many as 176 people remain unaccounted for.

A 177ft (54m) wall of mud buried the town of Oso, north of Seattle, on Saturday. Officials said the search would resume at first light.

At the scene

The rescuers' faces tell their own sad story. Many have returned looking tired and drawn, their search for friends and loved ones amid the massive mound of mud thwarted by the sheer complexity of the task.

The mud is 20ft (6.1m) deep in places. It can take more than 15 minutes to walk a couple of feet. A few hours after the mud came barrelling down the mountainside, flattening everything in its path, cries for help could be heard coming from the wreckage.

Now the site is silent, and officials admit there is little chance of finding anyone else alive. As if to prove the point, one of the rescuers discovered his front door amidst the wreckage. But the rest of his house is still missing - along with his wife and child.

"We haven't lost hope that there's a possibility that we could find somebody alive," local fire chief Travis Hots told reporters on Tuesday night.

"We are coming to the realisation that that may not be a possibility - but we are going full steam ahead.

"We are going at this hard to get everybody that's out there that's missing"

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

Survivors were last pulled alive from the mud on Saturday.

But as many as 200 search-and-rescue workers at a time - aided by dogs, helicopters, laser imaging and excavation equipment - have not let up since, pausing only when darkness made the work too dangerous, officials said.

The search-and-rescue operation was further complicated on Tuesday by heavy rain, Mr Hots said, as the workers were forced to contend with slippery mud, upturned nails, wreckage, and deep pits of water.

Fire Chief Travis Hots: "It's just unimaginable the conditions out there"

Workers try to clear debris from Saturday's mudslide in Oso, Washington Workers have to contend with dangerous debris and deep pits of water as they search for bodies, officials said
Ruined house in mud in Oso, Washington (25 Mar 2014) At least 30 homes were destroyed as a square mile of mud covered the area
Rescue dog searches mud near Oso, Washington (25 Mar 2014) Rescue workers and dogs are searching the wide expanse of mud and debris for bodies and signs of life
Vigil in Arlington, Washington (25 Mar 2014) A candle light vigil was held in the nearby town of Arlington to remember the victims

"It's unimaginable, the conditions out there that they're dealing with," Mr Hots said.

At a news conference in the Netherlands earlier, 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, 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.

Map of Oso, Washington

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