SHADYSIDE, OHIO, JUNE 16 -- Seven hundred rescue workers, some using bulldozers and others only their bare hands, searched today for the people still missing since Thursday night's deadly flash flood washed much of this town into the Ohio River.

Fifteen townspeople are confirmed dead, and Gov. Richard F. Celeste (D) said he would be "astonished" if the total did not rise. Today, the Ohio Emergency Management Agency announced that some of the people who had been listed as missing had informed relatives or authorities that they were safe. Official estimates of how many people were missing varied from more than 30 to 50.

Among the volunteers who have descended on this town is Food and Drug Administration engineer Michael Gluck, who drove here Friday night from the District with his two dogs, Uther and Annie. The mastiffs are specially trained to detect human scents and have helped in rescue efforts in Richmond and Puerto Rico, Gluck said. "We all just try to help. Even if we find bodies, it resolves the issue. It helps the family."

Wilma Palmer, who survived the flood, knew she was supposed to feel lucky. "Everybody keeps saying, 'You must be grateful. None of your family died.' But I can't help feeling bad," said Palmer, 63. "We built our house 25 years ago. There's nothing left but a hole in the ground. Even the furnace in the basement was ripped away. Everything we own is gone. It's all washed away."

Within a three-hour period Thursday night, 5.5 inches of rain fell on this Ohio Valley hamlet, according to the National Weather Service. For the entire month of June, the average rainfall here is 3.56 inches. The Washington region normally receives just less than that, with the Weather Service reporting an average June rainfall of 3.35 inches at National Airport.

At least 100 homes, scores of automobiles and dozens of horses, dogs and farm animals were flushed down Pipe and Wegee creeks, two Ohio River tributaries that rose in minutes to horrifying heights.

One state engineer said the creeks suddenly formed a "wall of water, 25 feet high, 100 yards wide, that moved at a rate of 10 feet per second."

The torrential rainfall caused trees and debris to collect in the creeks, damming the water until it exploded down the hillside and into the Ohio River.

At least 27 people were injured when they were battered by the force of the water and dragged into the creeks, a National Guard spokesman said. Some of those injured were flushed out of 3K's Lounge when raging waters crashed through the walls. One patron was found clinging to a barstool in the middle of the river, according to the local fire department.

Another survivor, 9-year-old Amber Colvin, was found seven miles downstream; she told rescuers she had traveled most of that distance in the bathtub from her house.

The girl's 13-year-old babysitter, Kerri Jo Polivka, is among those still missing. Some of the missing are believed to have been carried into the river, and it may take several days for their bodies to surface, local and state rescue workers said.

"It's hard to imagine the devastation," said Bryan Nichols, a firefighter from neighboring Belmont who was helping dig for survivors. "There's a car sitting on top of a clothes dryer up there. Two mobile homes have been twisted together. . . . Lincolns and Buicks are wrapped around trees."

Preliminary property damage estimates are well "into the millions," Celeste said after surveying in a helicopter for the second time today the five-mile path of destruction alongside Pipe and Wegee creeks. The region has been declared a federal disaster area.

The 341 members of the National Guard who are posted in this village of 4,300 to ward off looters, search for survivors and direct traffic plan to stay until all the missing have been accounted for, according to Richard C. Alexander, the Ohio National Guard's director of emergency management.

Their camouflaged vehicles have overwhelmed Central Avenue, the town's main artery. Troops are positioned outside the Ben Franklin store and the TriValley Car Wash.

This Appalachian region, about 10 miles south of Wheeling, W.Va., was not without its troubles before Thursday's flood. People here make their living in the coal mines, steel mills and the metal stamping plant, and these are slack days for those industries. The governor said the unemployment rate, estimated at about 13 percent, was one of the highest in the state. Many Shadyside residents have little or no savings, according to interviews with several local residents and officials.

"Why does it happen here, where a lot of people don't have that much?" asked Robert Gracey, chairman of church and community affairs for the Presbyterian Church of the Upper Ohio Valley. "I can't answer that. You can't say a lot to these people now. You just listen to them breathe."

Today, a scorching sun dried up much of the area, and the swollen creeks receded to normal levels, but the National Weather Service forecast thunderstorms for Sunday evening.

Sally Dunfee, who lost her home and the horses she boarded, spent much of the day at Jefferson Elementary School. "I'm trying to stay strong and look at the bright side."

Local restaurants have donated food to those left homeless, and the Jefferson School gymnasium looked like a Junior League sale with piles of donated clothes and shoes.

Wilma Palmer, still in a state of shock after witnessing "water that was high and awful and that took everything in its way," including her home, said she did not know who had given her the $8 she used today to buy new brown loafers. "You know I don't even have my shoes. I was just wearing an old pair of shorts and a top {when the flood came} and that's all I have left."