Two more bodies were recovered Tuesday after a massive mudslide last weekend near Seattle, raising the confirmed death total to 16, authorities said Tuesday night.
Eight more bodies were believed to have been found but hadn't been recovered, Snohomish County District Fire Chief Travis Hots told reporters Tuesday night.
Adding to the somber atmosphere was that "we didn't find any signs of life," Hots said. "We didn't locate anybody alive."
Officials had said earlier Tuesday that they expected the death toll to rise.
Authorities are reviewing almost 200 reports of missing people, but many of them were thought to be unfounded or duplicates.
"We haven't lost hope that we could find somebody alive in some pocket area," Hots said, but "we are coming to the realization that that may not be a possibility.
"But we are going full speed ahead," he said.
The 14 previously reported bodies were removed from a square-mile area around the towns of Oso and Darrington, about 55 miles from Seattle, where nearly 50 homes once stood.
More than 200 responders were still scouring the scene trying to "hopefully find somebody that's alive," Hots said.
"What we're finding is these vehicles are twisted and torn up in pieces."
"It's amazing the force and magnitude what this slide has done."
The location is buried under more than a dozen feet of soft, unstable mud, significantly complicating the operation, said Bob Calkins, a spokesman for the Washington State Patrol.
"If there's been a challenge today, I would say it's been in respect to the road," he said. "There's no way a bus is getting in there [or] fire equipment."
Because heavy equipment can't get to the scene, authorities were adding loggers familiar with the area to their crews — along with their light equipment appropriate for the terrain.
"The town of Darrington is well-suited to respond to a emergency like this" because local residents and loggers know the wilderness area intimately, he said.
Calkins refused to call the operation a "recovery" effort, saying he was sticking to the word "rescue" for the time being. But he acknowledged that things didn't look good.
"As I believe I heard our incident commander say yesterday, it's grim," he said.
First published March 25 2014, 4:34 PM