(Updates with latest tally of dead and bodies found)
By Jonathan Kaminsky and Bryan Cohen
DARRINGTON, Wash., March 30 (Reuters) - Churches offered prayers on Sunday for dozens of people dead and missing from last week's mudslide in Washington state, as well as words of solace for grieving families, many still waiting for news of loved ones who vanished.
The formal death toll rose to 21 on Sunday, including the remains of 15 victims identified by medical examiners and six still awaiting positive identification, said Jason Biermann, program manager for the Snohomish County Emergency Management Department.
He said four additional sets of remains were found on Sunday that for reasons not explained to reporters were being left out of the official tally of dead.
Authorities have offered conflicting casualty figures in recent days and the process of accounting for the number of dead has likely been complicated by the condition of some bodies that rescue workers have said are not always found intact.
Based on the four latest sets of remains reported found, and previous statements by county officials, the overall unofficial death toll could stand as high as 32.
In one hopeful development to the grim aftermath of the March 22 disaster, the roster of individuals still listed as missing and feared dead was lowered on Saturday to 30, down by two thirds from the figure that authorities had been reporting for several days.
That revision came after officials said they had accounted for the whereabouts of dozens of people who turned out to be safe and well.
Heavy showers and flooding this weekend hampered the efforts of teams searching for victims in the square mile (2.6 sq km) of muck and debris left when a rainsoaked hillside collapsed without warning above the north fork of the Stillaquamish River.
The torrent of mud released by the slide roared over both stream banks and state Highway 530, engulfing dozens of homes on the outskirts of the town of Oso in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.
NO SIGNS OF LIFE
No one has been pulled alive from the rubble since the day the landslide hit, when at least eight people were injured but survived. Rescue teams have detected no signs of life in the ensuing eight days.
Authorities conceded that it may end up being impossible to account for everyone lost in the disaster. Ron Brown, a Snohomish County official involved in the search operations, said the debris field may end up being the final resting place for some victims.
Many of those living close to the disaster area gathered for services at the Glad Tidings Assembly of God church in nearby Darrington, where Pastor Les Hagen urged them to remain strong.
"We're all hurting," he said. "We've had a terrible week. It still continues, but life must go on.
"Stay in your routine," he said. "Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Because eventually all of this will be in the rear view mirror of your life and it will be a memory. It will be a horrible memory, but it will be a memory." (Writing by Steve Gorman and Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Sandra Maler, Eric Walsh, Bernard Orr and Ron Popeski)
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