With search and cadaver dogs leading the way, rescuers using small bulldozers and their bare hands pushed through sludge strewn with splintered homes and twisted cars to find 10 more bodies in the debris of a Washington state mudslide, authorities said.
Despite the grim discoveries as the search entered its fifth day Wednesday — and the likelihood that more bodies will be found — officials were still hoping to find survivors.
"We haven't lost hope that there's a possibility that we can find somebody alive in some pocket area," said Snohomish County District 21 Fire Chief Travis Hots.
Two bodies were recovered Tuesday, while eight more were located in the debris field from Saturday's slide 55 miles northeast of Seattle, 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.
With scores still missing, authorities are working off a list of 176 people unaccounted for, though some names were believed to be duplicates.
Authorities said that number will change because more people have called in since the nearby logging town of Darrington's power was restored Tuesday.
Hundreds of rescuers and heavy equipment operators slogged through the muck and rain, following the search dogs over the unstable surface.
"Going on the last three days the most effective tool has been dogs and just our bare hands and shovels uncovering people," Hots said. "But the dogs are the ones that are pinpointing a particular area to look, and we're looking and that's how we're finding people."
A volunteer was injured Tuesday when he was struck by debris blown by a helicopter's rotor. The man was transported to a hospital for evaluation, but the injuries appeared minor, Snohomish County sheriff's spokeswoman Shari Ireton said in a statement.
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 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 program 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.
"I knew it would fail catastrophically in a large-magnitude event," though not when it would happen, said Miller, who was hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do the study. "I was not surprised."