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Saturday 24 February 2018

10 bodies found in mudslide search

The scene of the deadly mudslide in Oso, Washington (AP)
The scene of the deadly mudslide in Oso, Washington (AP)

Rescuers using small bulldozers and their bare hands have pushed through sludge strewn with splintered homes to find 10 more bodies in the debris of a mudslide, US authorities said.

Despite the grim discoveries in the state of Washington as the search entered its fifth day, and the likelihood that more bodies will be found, officials were still hoping to find survivors.

Local fire chief Travis Hots said: "We haven't lost hope that there's a possibility that we can find somebody alive in some pocket area."

Authorities say they expect to soon have an updated number of the people believed missing.

Officials are working off a list of 176 people unaccounted for, though some names are thought to be duplicates, and the number should decrease.

Snohomish County emergency management director John Pennington said they will have a revised figure later today.

Two bodies were recovered yesterday, while eight were located in the debris field from Saturday's slide 55 miles (88 kilometres) northeast of Seattle, Mr Hots said.

That brings the likely death toll to 24, though authorities are keeping the official toll at 16 until the eight other bodies are recovered.

Hundreds of rescuers and heavy equipment operators slogged through the muck and rain, following the search dogs over the unstable surface.

Mr Hots said: "Going on the last three days the most effective tool has been dogs and just our bare hands and shovels uncovering people."

As the increasingly desperate search progressed, reports surfaced that warned of the potential for dangerous landslides in the community.

A 2010 report commissioned by Snohomish County to comply with a federal law warned that neighbourhoods along the Stillaguamish River were among the highest-risk areas, The Seattle Times reported.

The hillside that collapsed on Saturday outside of the community of Oso was one highlighted as particularly dangerous, said the report by California-based engineering and architecture firm Tetra Tech.

"For someone to say that this plan did not warn that this was a risk is a falsity," said report author and Tetra Tech programme manager Rob Flaner.

A 1999 report by geomorphologist Daniel Miller, although not about housing, raises questions about why residents were allowed to build homes in the area and whether officials had taken proper precautions.

Mr Miller said "I knew it would fail catastrophically in a large-magnitude event" though not when it would happen.

A year later, the US Army Corps of engineers warned in another study that lives would be at risk if the hillside collapsed, The Daily Herald of Everett reported.

Residents and county officials were focused on flood prevention, even after a 2006 landslide that did not reach any homes.

Press Association

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