Washington mudslide death toll to rise 'substantially'

Local fire chief Travis Hots: "There are processes we are going through"

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The number of fatalities in a mudslide in Washington state will rise "substantially" in the next two days, authorities say.

Seventeen bodies have been recovered and at least one more has been found but not yet retrieved.

Some 90 people remain missing after the 177ft (54m) wall of mud hit the town of Oso, north of Seattle on Saturday.

Hopes of discovering any more survivors have faded as day seven of the search ended on Friday.

David Willis reports from the edge of the cordon on the grim task for mudslide volunteers

"I believe that the crews are finding bodies in the field," Snohomish County executive director Gary Haakenson told reporters on Friday evening. "It's a very, very slow process."

He said the conditions at the one sq-mile site had continued to deteriorate, soaked by days of heavy rain that had turned the already dangerous debris field into "quicksand".

"I cannot possibly tell you how long this will last or when they will find more bodies," he said. "We always want to hold out hope but I think at some point we have to expect the worst."

'Official' number

Mr Haakenson said it had become increasingly difficult to identify the bodies.

And he declined to address previous statements from officials that searchers had found at least eight other bodies but been unable to retrieve them.

"The number I have given you is the number," he said.

Earlier, local fire chief Travis Hots said the death toll would increase substantially within the next 24-28 hours as the medical examiner catches up with the recovery effort.

Authorities have so far identified five victims: Christina Jefferds, 45; Stephen Neal, 55; Linda McPherson, 69; Kaylee Spillers, 5; William Welsh, 66.

Ms Jefferds, who the Seattle Times reports was a dental office manager, died of blunt impact injuries, says the medical examiner.

Family members have told local media that searchers also discovered the body of Ms Jefferds's four-month-old granddaughter, Sanoah Violet Huestis, whom she had been babysitting at the time of the mudslide.

Died together

On Thursday, Nichole Webb Rivera, 39, told the BBC the search continued for her family members who have not been heard from since Saturday.

Ms Rivera's daughter Delaney Webb, 20, and her fiance Alan Bejvl were visiting Ms Rivera's parents for the weekend when disaster truck.

Snohomish County Fire Battalion Chief Steve Mason explains what is happening at the site

Ms Webb and Mr Bejvl planned to wed on 16 August at Ms Rivera's parents home on the river, Ms Rivera said.

Her parents, Thom and Marcy Satterlee, were married 41 years and had lived in the area for three decades.

"If they could choose a way to go out, it would be like that, really fast and in the place they loved. Together," she said.

Survivors were last pulled from the mud on Saturday.

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

The debris field is pocked with deep pits of water and strewn with sharp and dangerous wreckage, including fallen trees, propane and septic tanks, destroyed vehicles and smashed timber.

An aerial view of the mudslide taken 23 March The landslide left a cliff known as a head scarp that is 600ft (182m) high and a one sq-mile zone of destruction
Reuters 27 March US Air Force personnel have joined the search effort
Map of Oso, Washington

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