The death toll from the Washington mudslide is expected to rise Tuesday, but the fire chief said some victims may never be found.
"That is certainly a possibility, but we are going to do everything with our capabilities to recover every single person," Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said.
Fourteen bodies have been removed from what officials are calling "the pile" — a square-mile expanse covered in muck and debris where nearly 50 homes once stood.
Dozens may be missing — authorities are chasing down 176 reports, but many of them are thought to be unfounded — and no signs of life have been found.
"It's been a number of days," said John Pennington, the county's emergency management director. "We’ve requested a mortuary team to assist us. That speaks for itself."
He quickly added, "I believe in miracles and I believe people can survive these events."
Hots said crews are focusing on "voids" where there could be enough space or air for someone to survive three days.
More specialized teams and high-tech equipment — including technology to locate cellphone pings under the wreckage — were being deployed on Tuesday.
But rain was falling, increasing the risk of another landslide and making the terrain even more dangerous.
"It's going to make it even more challenging," Hots said.
"But our guys are out there and they're going to be out there digging around."
With the landscape buried under 15 feet of mud in some spots, officials could not predict how long the recovery would take.
“This is going to be a very long-term event. This will be something that goes into the weeks," Hots said.
— Tracy Connor
First published March 25 2014, 9:11 AM