Dif­fi­cult search con­tin­ues in af­ter­math of mud­slides

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - NEWS - By Michael Bal­samo

MON­TECITO, CALIF. >> The death toll from the mud­slides in a Cal­i­for­nia coastal town rose to 19 on Satur­day but a man who had also been on the list of miss­ing per­sons was lo­cated alive, au­thor­i­ties said.

The body of Mor­gan Chris­tine Corey, 25, was found in mud and de­bris in Mon­tecito, Santa Barbara County Sher­iff Bill Brown said. Her 12-year-old sis­ter, Sawyer, had been found dead ear­lier. Another per­son who had been on the list of miss­ing, 62-year-old Del­bert Weltzin, was found alive and well, Brown said with­out elab­o­rat­ing on the cir­cum­stances. The two de­vel­op­ments re­duced the num­ber of miss­ing from seven to five. “While ev­ery hour it re­mains less likely that we will find any­one alive, there is al­ways hope,” Brown said. The back­break­ing work went on through the day un­der sunny skies on this stretch of Santa Barbara County coast about 90 miles north­west of Los An­ge­les. Long-range fore­casts gave the crews about a week be­fore the next chance of rain — and po­ten­tial new mud­slides — al­though the pre­cip­i­ta­tion an­tic­i­pated Fri­day is ex­pected to be dis­or­ga­nized and light. Another sys­tem is pos­si­ble two days later. Much of the com­mu­nity of about 9,000 re­mained un­der manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­ders, even un­scathed ar­eas, as crews both re­moved de­bris and worked to re­store wa­ter, san­i­ta­tion, power and gas. All warn­ings and or­ders for neigh­bor­ing Sum­mer­land and Carpin­te­ria were lifted. Tanker trucks sucked muddy wa­ter from flooded sec­tions of U.S. 101, the only di­rect ma­jor artery be­tween Los An­ge­les and the Santa Barbara re­gion and an im­por­tant route for many peo­ple who work in the Santa Barbara re­gion but live down the coast in Ven­tura County.

The Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion aban­doned an es­ti­mate of re­open­ing the high­way on Mon­day and said it was not known when the clo­sure would be lifted. Am­trak, which be­gan restor­ing rail ser­vice two days af­ter the flood, was adding cars to trains be­cause of heavy de­mand. Two boat com­pa­nies that nor­mally take tourists out to Chan­nel Is­lands Na­tional Park and on whale-watch­ing ex­cur­sions were fer­ry­ing peo­ple be­tween the Ven­tura and Santa Barbara har­bors.

On land, lo­cal, state and fed­eral agen­cies were con­duct­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ous re­cov­ery ef­forts, the Santa Barbara County Pub­lic Works Depart­ment said. That in­cluded clear­ing

roads, drainage chan­nels and de­bris basins that are in­tended to catch mud­flows. Emer­gency per­mits were ob­tained to dump up to 300,000 cu­bic yards of sed­i­ment into the surf line on beaches in Go­leta and Carpin­te­ria.

The depart­ment said the sed­i­ment would only con­sist of wet or dry dirt or mud with­out rocks, de­bris or veg­e­ta­tion, and in­spec­tors would refuse any truck­load con­tain­ing un­per­mit­ted ma­te­ri­als. Oc­ca­sional rocks would be set aside by hand for dis­posal.

In the dis­as­ter im­pact zone, searchers used chain saws and rakes to re­move logs and sift through what was left of mul­ti­mil­lion­dol­lar homes. Crews with back­hoes and jack­ham­mers pul­ver­ized enor­mous boul­ders that were left when the tor­rents stopped. Or­ange mark­ings left on doors in­di­cated which homes had al­ready been searched.

In one of the hard­est hit ar­eas, a sil­ver Mercedes-Benz, its front and rear fend­ers de­stroyed, sat atop a tree stump, the only thing left where a home once sat. Res­cuers said they would search ev­ery piece of de­bris and pile of dirt to look for the miss­ing.

Capt. Tom Hen­z­gen, leader of a team from the Los An­ge­les Fire Depart­ment, pointed to a nearly empty lot. “This house is across the street now so we have to search th­ese piles where peo­ple could’ve po­ten­tially floated into,” he said.

Each mem­ber of his team is given a sec­tion and must re­duce any piles to ground level. “We’re go­ing to tear them apart piece by piece and search each pile thor­oughly and make sure there’s no­body in there,” Hen­z­gen said.

“We have to do what­ever it takes.”

At a de­stroyed res­i­dence where 14-year-old Lau­ren Cantin was res­cued Tues­day, fire crews moved pieces of the roof, wood and con­crete by hand as they looked for any sign of her miss­ing 17-year-old brother. The fire that led to the floods erupted Dec. 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 440 square miles, it be­came the largest wild­fire in Cal­i­for­nia records.


Co­lette Lay­ton of the Atas­cadero Fire Depart­ment searched a home in Mon­tecito, Calif., Satur­day. Five peo­ple re­main miss­ing four days af­ter mud­slides buried homes in this stretch of Santa Barbara County.

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