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Obama calls for prayers for Washington mudslide victims

President Barack Obama has called on Americans to pray for the victims of a mudslide in the US state of Washington which has claimed at least 14 lives.

Officials say as many as 176 people remain unaccounted for after the 177-ft (54-m) wall of mud hit near the town of Oso, north of Seattle, on Saturday.

Emergency officials said they expected the death toll to rise throughout Tuesday as they comb the debris field.

Search crews have worked day and night, using helicopters and laser imaging.

“The total fatality rate remains at 14 and we’re expecting that number to go up throughout the day,” local fire chief Travis Hots told reporters on Tuesday.

President Obama, speaking during a news conference at a summit in the Netherlands earlier in the day, asked all Americans to send their thoughts and prayers to the victims.

“We know that part of this tightly knit community has been lost,” he said.

“We hope for the best,” he added, “but recognise this is a tough situation.”

He has declared an emergency in Washington state and ordered federal authorities to co-ordinate the disaster relief effort.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee – after surveying the area from the air – said it was “devastation beyond imagination”.

He said the slide “basically cut a mountain in two” and deposited it on the town below. Nothing in the path of the slide was still standing.

“It’s that absolute devastation that causes us all real pain,” he said.

Family members and volunteers were using chainsaws and their bare hands to shift the wreckage and try to find those missing.

Cory Kuntz, helped by others, worked with chainsaws to cut through the roof of his uncle’s house, which was swept about 450ft from its location.

He said his aunt, Linda McPherson, had been killed. He and the others pulled files and personal effects from the house.

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