Nightly News   |  March 26, 2014

Mudslide: Families Grieve as Rescue Hopes Grow Dim

It was a grim day for rescue teams on Wednesday, five days after the massive mudslide. Now, the focus remains on the missing.

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

>> williams: good evening. this was day five of the search for the missing after that mountainside fell into a valley below in washington state . and the search felt every bit as urgent today as day one. using bulldozers and shovels, using their hands, they´re going through a square mile of debris. conditions are bad, and because so many of the rescuers are from there, they are fighting heartache all the way. it´s where we begin again tonight. nbc´s miguel almaguer remains there for us. miguel , good evening.

>> almaguer: brian, good evening. late-breaking news out west tonight -- the number of missing has decreased, although that number is still fluid. just upstream, the national guard is involved in the rescue. they call this a search, not a recovery mission, though with eight more bodies discovered, one thing is certain -- the death toll will rise. with 49 homes in oso buried under 20 feet of mud, today search teams found no sign of life. there´s been no rescue since saturday, when first responders spotted little jacob spillers wading through the mud. the 4-year-old was hoisted to safety all alone. his father, three brothers and sisters are still missing. jacob´s cousin kevin ryce flew 3,000 miles to find his family.

>> ryce: i´m here because i love my family, and i´m after them.

>> almaguer: tonight 90 people are unaccounted for. the official death toll now stands at 16. the stories of those who are gone are still emerging, like christina jefferds.

>> huestis: i´ve lost my mother. [ sighs ] i´ve lost my baby.

>> almaguer: natasha huestis found her mother´s body on saturday, but her 4-month-old baby, sanoah, is still missing. when do you stop searching for your baby?

>> huestis: you don´t. you don´t. never. you don´t. i will not stop.

>> almaguer: linda mcpherson was sharing a cup of coffee with her husband, gary, when the slide hit. he was washed 200 yards down the road and lived, but she did not survive.

>> kuntz: we´re grieving for our loss, because she was such a wonderful sister. she was like a rock in our family.

>> almaguer: experts say the mudslide´s debris field is 30 to 40 feet deep in spots, as tall as a four-story building. the volume -- 15 million cubic yards , nearly five times as much mud as there is concrete in the hoover dam . amid this impossible search, there are now more questions. did logging on the ridge directly above the slide play a role? today we learned of a 2010 report that warned of the exact area where the earth gave way was dangerous.

>> pennington: people knew that this is a landslide-prone area. sometimes big events just happen. and i want to understand why.

>> almaguer: those answers will come in the days ahead. for now, those leading the search are struggling to stay strong.

>> pennington: we are humbled beyond belief in this county. we have received -- it is [chuckles] [ voice breaking ] it is very humbling.

>> almaguer: for a second day in a row, it is raining here, making the search even more dangerous. by this weekend, we may have three inches of rain, making the soil here even more unstable. brian?

>> williams: miguel almaguer with our coverage from washington state tonight. miguel , thank you.