The number of people missing since mudslides engulfed a Californian town surged to 48 on Thursday as hundreds of rescue workers slogged through knee-deep ooze and used long poles to probe for bodies.
The searchers are using all-terrain vehicles and helicopters, but downed power lines and blocked roads are complicating their efforts. In the Romero Canyon area above Montecito, scores have been marooned since Tuesday morning. Officials fear the death toll could rise because firefighters have not yet been able to access some areas in the path of the debris flows.
Heavy rain on Tuesday, which followed 10 months of drought, sent sticky mud and debris flowing from the hills into Montecito. Although no victims have been formally identified, the dead include some children.
After a better look at the damage, officials lowered the number of destroyed homes from 100 to 64 and raised the number of damaged ones from 300 to 446. The freeway was closed between Highway 150 and Milpas.
Flash flooding, debris flow and mudslides are punishing the communities hit hard by the Thomas and La Tuna fires, prompting "dozens and dozens" of rescues on the ground, a spokesperson from the Santa Barbara County Fire Department told ABC News.
When it was over, he was able to hike to a nearby road and flag down firefighters who helped his family get out. "I am praying and thinking so much for our friends in the hospital and their families that are still missing".
He had been out since 5 a.m. looking for his girlfriend's missing sisters, Morgan and Sawyer Corey.
"That's the last we heard of them", Clay Weimer said. "And I don't think Superman would've survived it".More news: 0.94 is Pepsico Inc's (NYSE:PEP) Institutional Investor Sentiment
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In a statement, Van Hecke said Rohter and his wife were swept away from their home in Montecito. His body was found a day after his children were recovered, about a mile from their home. But the other child is still missing.
"He was in the mud calling her name for hours", said Alastair Haigh, Gower's 37-year-old son-in-law. "But nothing remains of their house". Friends said the woman's house was destroyed in the deluge. Theresa was rescued and hospitalized in stable condition.
Some of the searches had happy endings. She believed her mother had been evacuated but could not find her.
"What a day! Praying for our community again in Santa Barbara". She had no luck.
Rainfall totals on Tuesday afternoon ranged from 3 to 5 inches in the mountains in Ventura County and 2 to 3 inches in the mountains of Santa Barbara County. Other streets became rivers as the mud filled homes, blasted cars from garages, tore down trees and tumbled boulders like Legos.
Pitney said many rescues were still happening Wednesday and Thursday, but most if not all were of people who were safe but just wanted to get out of the area. Burned-over zones are especially susceptible to destructive mudslides because scorched earth doesn't absorb water well and the land is easily eroded when there are no shrubs. Elms said emergency crews are still trying to fight their way through roadways made inaccessible by mudflow in the hopes of locating more survivors. "In so many ways she was so handsome", Brewer said. "If we felt they did not have a problem, we would not have issued a warning at all". Flash floods there on Tuesday swept enormous amounts of mud, water and debris down from foothills that were stripped of brush by the recent Thomas wildfire. "Woke up to this blazing gas fire. then swipe left to see how deep the mud is in my backyard", she wrote. She moved to Montecito in the early 1990s.
"That's all she could talk about last night", Weimer said.