Number of missing drops in Washington mudslide

A weary searcher bows his head as he walks out of the west side of the mudslide site with a small saw on Highway 530 near mile marker 37 in Arlington, Wash., on Sunday, March 30, 2014. 
AP Photo/Rick Wilking

Last Updated Mar 31, 2014 10:40 PM EDT

DARRINGTON, Wash. -- Authorities said Monday they now believe 22 people remain missing in the aftermath of a massive mudslide that covered a northwestern Washington town with muck and debris, killing at least 24 people.

The number of missing dropped from the 30 people authorities had said were not accounted for.

The Snohomish County medical examiner's office said Monday that it has positively identified 18 of the 24 victims in the official death toll.

Estimated financial losses have reached $10 million, Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday in a letter asking the federal government for a major disaster declaration.

Inslee said about 30 families need assistance with housing, along with personal and household goods. The estimated losses include nearly $7 million in structures and more than $3 million in their contents, his letter said.

As crews sifted through the mud and remains of homes, Snohomish County Executive Director Gary Haakenson said the remains of three additional victims were found Monday, but they have not yet been included in the medical examiner's official numbers.

Steve Harris, a division supervisor for the search effort, said search teams are learning more about the force of the March 22 slide, and that is helping them better locate victims in a debris field that is 70 feet deep in places.

"There's a tremendous amount of force and energy behind this," Harris said of the slide. He didn't provide further details.

Harris said search dogs are the primary tool for finding remains in the small, mountainside community about 55 miles northeast of Seattle. He said searchers are finding human remains four to six times per day.

"It's very difficult to make identifications in some of the finds," he said.

A makeshift road completed over the weekend links one side of the 300-acre debris field to the other.

Searchers have had to contend with treacherous conditions, including household chemicals, septic tanks, gasoline and propane containers. When rescuers and dogs leave the site, they are hosed off by hazardous materials crews.

Also Monday, members of the Seattle Seahawks football team and Seattle Sounders soccer team were scheduled to visit with community members in the evening.

On Sunday, Inslee said rescue workers looking for victims are hoping for a miracle at this point in the rescue process but will continue to look for survivors as long as there is hope.

"Look, we are hoping for a miracle. And more importantly, we are working for a miracle. And we're doing everything humanly possible if that opportunity exists," Inslee said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "These searchers, both professionals and volunteer, are really performing Herculean tasks right now. They're working beyond the point of exhaustion. And we intend to exhaust every possible avenue to look for that miracle."