Up to 43 people still missing after California mudslides; dead identified

Sunday, 14 Jan, 2018

The sheriff's office listed the names of the missing, who range in age from two to 62, in a statement on Friday night.

"We've got a window that's closing, but we're still very optimistic. There's been plenty of cases where they've found people a week after", Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason said.

The drenching rains that unleashed the deadly torrents managed to finally contain the largest wildfire in state history, which burned for weeks above Montecito and stripped the steep hills of vegetation, making it prone to mudslides.

Secondary searches of damaged structures were under way.

Santa Barbara County said emergency permits don't require testing of the material for hazards but that public health authorities were testing the ocean waters.

Excavators carrying rescuers in their buckets ploughed through mud-coated roads in search of the missing after some areas were buried in as much as 4.6m of mud. "It just exhausts the crews out there", Sacramento Fire Department Captain Pat Costamagna said in a social media video from the governor's emergency management office.

Nearly the entire community, about 10,000 people, are under a mandatory evacuation order that could last for up to two weeks, Santa Barbara County's fire chief said. The walls at one end of a home had disappeared, leaving its roof hanging precariously.

Powerlines were downed and cars were perched on mounds of earth after garage doors caved in.

The backbreaking work went on in the summerlike weather that has made the stretch of Santa Barbara County coast about 90 miles (145 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles a haven for the wealthy, celebrities and tourists. It erupted December 4 in Ventura County and destroyed more than 1,000 structures as it swept through the city of Ventura and then threatened Carpinteria, Summerland and Santa Barbara.

At noon on Saturday, the evacuation warning issued for areas south of Highway 192 between Ortega Ridge Road to the Santa Barbara County line will be lifted.

Cal Fire urged residents to use caution when returning and said that many areas are still without access to power and gas.

"This house is across the street now so we have to search these piles where people could've potentially floated into", he said.