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US officials cautious on landslide toll hike

Photo obtained March 25, 2014, from Washington State Department of Transportation shows general view of the area affected by the landslide near State Route 530, taken near Oso, Washington
Photo obtained March 25, 2014, courtesy of Washington State Department of Transportation shows a general view of the area affected by a landslide near State Route 530, taken near Oso, Washington, March 22, 2014

The confirmed death toll from a massive US landslide rose to 17 but was expected to increase further Friday, an official said, stressing caution out of sensitivity for victims' families.

Ninety people remain missing and officials had already said they had located eight other bodies after mud crashed down on the Washington state town of Oso last weekend.

Rain again hampered efforts by emergency teams searching for bodies in the one-square mile (2.5-square-kilometer) mass of sticky mud and debris, which obliterated nearly 50 homes.

Snohomish County District 21 Fire Chief Travis Hots had said he would announce a "substantial" increase in the death toll Friday morning.

But at a regular briefing he said he could only announce deaths officially confirmed by the Snohomish County Medical Examiner's office, which stood at 17, up one from 16 the previous day.

New figures would be made public at a 6:00 pm (0100 GMT Saturday) briefing, he said.

"This is a sensitive situation for people who have lost their loved ones ... it's not as simple as saying 'This is the number,'" said Hots.

A total of 49 dwellings in the rural town were hit by the square-mile (2.5-square-kilometer) wall of mud, rocks and trees, which also destroyed part of a highway about 60 miles (95 kilometers) northeast of Seattle.

More than 200 rescue workers have been working in tough conditions for five days. A few survivors were found immediately after the mudslide, but none since Saturday.