The number of people missing from a community wiped out by a mudslide has been reduced to 90 as the families and friends of those still unaccounted for confronted the reality that some may never be found.
The official death toll from the disaster in Washington state remains at 16, with another eight bodies located but not recovered. More bodies were expected to be found later yesterday.
The number of missing had been fluctuating – at one point reaching as high as 220 – but authorities were able to verify that 140 people reported missing had been located. That left 90 people missing, plus 35 others who may or may not have been in the area at the time of the slide.
The revised numbers come at the end of a rain-soaked fifth day of searching for survivors in the small community of Oso, south east of Seattle. But as time passes and the death toll continues to rise, the chances grow increasingly dim of finding people alive amid the debris.
With little hope to cling to, family members of the missing are beginning realise their loved ones may remain entombed forever inside a mountain of mud that is believed to have claimed more than 20 lives.
Search crews using dogs, bulldozers and their bare hands slogged through the mess of broken wood and mud, but authorities have acknowledged they might have to leave some victims buried.