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Washington mudslide death toll, now at 14, expected to rise

Snohomish County Executive John Lovick wipes a tear during a briefing in downtown Arlington Monday, March 24, 2014. (AP Photo /The Herald, Annie Mulligan

Annie Mulligan/AP/The Herald

Rain began falling on Oso, Washington on Tuesday morning, turning much of the muck covering this remote town into a spongy soup, further hampering rescue operations following a mudslide that has left at least 14 dead.

"We're expecting that number to go up throughout the day," Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said Tuesday.

During a morning press conference, local officials struck a defensive tone after the Seattle Times newspaper revealed a number of reports from the Army Corp of Engineers over the past decade warning that a devastating mudslide could occur in the Oso area.

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Officials in Snohomish County said search operations could continue for weeks as teams continue to painstakingly probe through the quicksand-like mud for signs of life. No one has been found since Saturday, however, the local emergency manager said he "believes in miracles."

A list of over 176 people unaccounted for after the slide has been collected from numerous sources, however, officials expect the number of missing to fall dramatically.

On Saturday morning, residents of this rural stretch of northwestern Washington State woke up to the same unseasonably warm weather. Most lived in small lush farms along a peaceful stretch of state highway between the river and the foothills of the Cascade Range.

Just before 10:45 a.m., the ground above the area began to shudder and move. Within moments, two and a half square kilometres of muck began rolling toward the river.

The debris field around Oso, about 90 kilometres north of Seattle, is still unstable, leading searchers to delay operations as they wait for the ground to stop shifting. Due to the dangerous conditions, officials asked volunteers to stay away. Over 150 first responders are currently at the disaster site, with more teams set to arrive over the next few days.

With reports from AP

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