There are still nearly two hundred people missing following a devastating mudslide that hit forty miles north of Seattle, Wash. on Saturday morning.
As volunteers pick through the rubble, experts fear that the death toll could spike sharply in the coming days.
Snohomish County Fire Chief Travis Hots says that the mudslide is responsible for at least 14 deaths thus far. Over 176 people remain unaccounted for.
The mudslide is also blamed for the destruction of dozens of residences.
Even as Hots said authorities offer up their "deepest sympathies and condolences to the families" of those impacted by this terrible event, he also admits that he expects the death toll to climb "throughout the day".
That may be why the focus of emergency responders has changed at this point, shifting from a rescue operation to a recovery mission.
Volunteers and officials continue to hope for the best even with the grim task ahead.
"I never lose faith and a lot of the people in this community will never lose faith," said John Pennington. Pennington is the Snohomish County's director of emergency management.
Speaking to on NBC’s “Today” show, he admits that despite his best hopes, operations "are turning that very delicate corner in the recovery operation".
Over 156 volunteers are working hard to try and get at possible survivors, but the weather will make it difficult.
The region is set to see record rainfall. All of that water-soaked ground which will keep the search area unstable and potentially dangerous.
With the delays and so many still missing, it's inevitable that the death toll will climb. However, authorities say they are confident that there are still survivors who are simply waiting to be rescued.
Regarding the full count of those unaccounted for, Pennington said, "I believe very strongly [it's] not a number we're going to see in fatalities. I believe it's going to drop dramatically."
Persons have been heard calling for help somewhere in the debris. The number of persons crying out for rescue cannot be determined at this time.
Image via Wikimedia Commons