Nightly News   |  March 24, 2014

Families Hold Out Hope for Those Missing in Mudslide

Unrelenting rain triggered the devastating mudslide that buried homes in Washington state. There are more than 100 reports of missing people, but authorities say some of those could be duplicates.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> williams: back in this country, grim news from the pacific northwest . there are now over 100 names on the list of people missing or unaccounted for after a massive landslide. here´s what this vacation area we´re talking about looked like before and then after the slide that demolished nearly 50 structures, wiping them out in an instant. and tonight we´re getting our first look at all of it from the air. we begin our team of reporting with nbc´s joe fryer. he´s at the scene in washington state tonight. joe , good evening.

>> fryer: good evening, brian. the death toll has now risen to 14 after 6 more bodies were found today. meantime, search teams are trying to figure out how many people were in their homes when the mudslide hit and how many were on state route 530, which is now covered with mud. it is not an easy task, and tonight there is some confusion over how many are still missing. the ground that once supported this vast rural neighborhood has now buried it. mud covers one square mile , measuring as deep as 20 feet in some places. inside the slide zone before it hit, officials say there were about 50 homes or r.v.s, half of them occupied full time , now wiped out. many of the people missing were on steelhead drive, where navy commander l. john regelbrugge lived with his wife.

>> regelbrugge: john´s 32 years in the navy. if someone can survive, it´s him. and he´s with his wife, i´m sure.

>> fryer: also missing from steelhead drive, amanda lennick and the man who was installing her water heater, steven neal.

>> neal: if he had any warning at all, we just have to think that he´s somewhere and he´s safe and they just can´t reach him right now.

>> fryer: authorities still don´t know exactly how many are missing. there are 108 reports of people who are unaccounted for. but some of those reports are vague, and many could be duplicates.

>> hots: we´re still in a rescue mode at this time. however, i want to let everyone know that the situation is very grim.

>> fryer: weeks of unrelenting rain triggered the mudslide saturday morning. that night, rescuers could hear cries from people who were trapped but couldn´t be reached. they have heard no cries since. today, searchers combed the scene, even using a hovercraft, but they had to pull back, afraid another slide could hit. at the oso fire station , the flag is at half staff . a firefighter´s wife and 4-month-old granddaughter are among the missing . so is librarian linda mcpherson.

>> woman: this just has changed my life in many ways. it´s devastating.

>> woman #2: oh, my god.

>> fryer: mcpherson´s family did receive one glimmer of hope when their chocolate lab , buddy, was pulled from the rubble 100 yards from their home.

>> woman: we needed a win. so...

>> fryer: one win in a place overcome by loss. joe fryer, nbc news, oso, washington.

>> almaguer: i´m miguel almaguer over oso. on this clear day, we have a perfect perspective of the damage. one square mile of debris, some 500 football fields´ worth of destruction. it just goes on and on. at least two communities, both over 100 years old, were demolished by the mudslide. dozens of homes are damaged or destroyed. we believe this is steelhead drive, the street, the community that took the brunt of the damage. this is the area where first responders heard cries for help for 12 hours. they just couldn´t reach everybody. this isn´t the first time this mountain has given way. eight years ago, it buckled in the exact same place, just not at this scale. folks who lived here never thought they would see something like this. shortly after the mudslide, crews were worried about this river. the mud was blocking its flow, and they were worried about catastrophic flooding downstream. those concerns have now eased. crews in the air and on the ground have been spending hours looking for victims. but their job is dangerous. there´s concern another mudslide could be triggered. so they´re being asked to pull back. miguel almaguer, nbc news, 6,000 feet above oso, washington.

>> williams: it´s important for scope and perspective. and you can see more of our aerial reporting from above the scene of this devastation. it´s on our website tonight, nbcnews.com.