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Fourteen dead and 176 missing in mudslide

The death toll from the mudslide that swept through a rural US community has reached 14 as the search for survivors continues.

In the struggle to find loved ones, family members and neighbours used chainsaws and their bare hands to pick through wreckage that was tangled by the mud into piles of debris.

The list of potentially missing people topped 176 following Saturday's disaster about 55 miles north east of Seattle, Washington.

But Snohomish County emergency management director John Pennington stressed that authorities believed the number included many duplicate names.

"The 176, I believe very strongly is not a number we're going to see in fatalities. I believe it's going to drop dramatically," he said.

The list included building workers in the area and people driving by. Authorities also predicted that the number of missing would decline as more people were found to be safe.

But the lack of definitive information two days after the massive mile-wide slide destroyed a cluster of homes at the bottom of a river valley increased anxieties.

"The situation is very grim," county fire district chief Travis Hots said. He said authorities were still in rescue mode and holding out hope, but noted: "We have not found anyone alive on this pile since Saturday."

Snohomish County sheriff's spokeswoman Shari Ireton said search and rescue crews discovered an additional six bodies, bringing the number of fatalities to at least 14.

The slide critically injured several others.

About two dozen homes were flattened and the debris blocked a mile-long stretch of state highway near Arlington.

Retired firefighter Gail Moffett said she knew of about 25 people missing. "It's safe to say I'll know everyone affected or who they are," she said. "There's so much pain going on in the community right now."

Washington state governor Jay Inslee described the scene as "a square mile of total devastation" after flying over the area.