Difficult search continues in aftermath of mudslides
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.