SEATTLE (AP) — Three days after a huge landslide destroyed a small community in rural Washington state, authorities still had no firm idea how many people were missing, possibly buried in the tangled mess of mud, trees and debris. And the potential number keeps fluctuating wildly - first it was 18, then 108, then 176.
The changing figure has added to the confusion of a rescue and recovery operation that has involved aircraft, heavy equipment, trained search crews, and desperate friends and family using chain saws and their bare hands to pick through the debris.
Officials are compiling the list from calls from worried family members, friends and locals. Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington said the number of potential missing likely includes duplicate names as people phone in reports about the same person. Authorities are working through the list, being extra cautious before they make conclusions.
Are there really more than 170 death? Almost certainly not. Pennington said "the 176, I believe very strongly is not a number we're going to see in fatalities. I believe it's going to drop dramatically."