The number of people missing or unaccounted for after the massive landslide in Washington state has dropped from 176 to 90, search officials said Wednesday night.
Ever since the avalanche of dirt and debris buried the small community 55 miles east of Seattle in mud on Saturday, the number of people who weren't accounted for had fluctuated as high as 250.
The new number was determined after authorities cross-referenced reports of missing persons and a registry of people who'd reported they were alive and well, John Pennington, director of the Snohomish County Emergency Management Department, told reporters.
Thirty-five more people were listed as "status unknown," a catchall designation for people — such as relatives, acquaintances or other visitors — who may or may not have been in the area at the time of the landslide but haven't checked in as safe.
Authorities confirmed Tuesday that 16 bodies had been recovered from the muck and that eight other people were believed to have been found. No further bodies were found Wednesday, Pennington said.
Crews were still holding out hope that some survivors might be hidden in air pockets under the mud, called "voids," Steve Westlake, an operations section chief for the search effort, told NBC News.
"We have found those voids," Westlake said, but searchers haven't uncovered any survivors yet.
Arlington Mayor Beth Tolbert said donations had poured in from as far away as New Zealand, but she said "this is a lot of people to be missing" and pleaded for more donations to help the area rebuild.
As scores of emergency officials and volunteers scoured the soft, unstable ground, rescue dogs were starting to get "very fatigued very early," Pennington said, and coordinators were working on a plan to keep them rested and effective.
So many volunteers showed up to help at the staging site in the town of Darrington that "we don't need any more workers" there, he said. "We can't safely manage them."
Authorities said debris removal from Highway 530 remained a priority, but they said it would be a long and difficult challenge because of the presence of possible victims.
First published March 26 2014, 6:38 PM