Arduous search for missing amid masses of debris
MONTECITO, Santa Barbara County — Crews dug away at masses of mud, boulders and debris with earth-moving machines and shovels Saturday, hoping to find seven people still missing in a mudslide disaster that already has killed at least 18 people.
The army of searchers and recovery workers in Montecito swelled to more than 2,000 five days after a powerful storm swept in from the Pacific and dumped a deluge on mountain slopes above the coastal enclave that were burned bare by a huge wildfire in December.
The backbreaking work went on under the sunny skies that have made the stretch of Santa Barbara County coast about 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles a haven for the wealthy, celebrities and tourists drawn to its scenery and casual vibe.
“We have to do whatever it takes,” said Capt. Tom Henzgen, leader of a team from the Los Angeles Fire Department.
Much of the community of 9,000 remained under mandatory evacuation orders, even unscathed areas, as crews removed debris and worked to restore water, 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 area 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 end.
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.
In the disaster impact zone, searchers used chain saws and rakes to remove logs and sift through the remnants of what was left of multimillion-dollar 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.
Crews pump mud off of Highway 101 in Montecito (Santa Barbara County). The California Department of Transportation does not yet know when the key highway will reopen.