Emergency officials in southern California said on Friday they were looking for five people missing and feared dead or trapped by deadly mudslides and have expanded the search area.
At least 17 people have died and officials warned that finding more survivors in the thick brown mud was becoming unlikely.
The new figure of five missing compared with the 43 people listed last night as unaccounted for by the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office, according to a spokesman for the office, who declined to elaborate on the reason for the sharply lower number.
Officials say estimates of missing people can fluctuate dramatically in the days after a natural disaster as people call in reports of missing loved ones, some of whom may not have been in the area when the disaster struck.
“Realistically we suspect we are going to have the discovery of more people killed in this incident,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said at a Thursday news briefing, adding that he was hoping to find “miracle” survivors.
County officials ordered residents in most of the southeastern corner of Montecito, an unincorporated community east of the city of Santa Barbara, to leave their homes for what they said was likely to be one or two weeks to aid the search and recovery efforts.
“We need people out, because they’re really hampering our efforts for not only the rescue, but for the cleanup,” said Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokeswoman Amber Anderson said on Friday.
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation prisoners exit a shower tent used by rescue workers after a mudslide in Santa Barbara, California, US January 11, 2018. Photo: Reuters/Kyle Grillot
The cause of death for all 17 victims will be listed as multiple traumatic injuries resulting from flash floods with mudslides, the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s office said Thursday. The dead ranged in age from 3 to 89.
Rescue workers in helicopters and high-wheeled military vehicles, some with search dogs, were deployed in the hunt for the missing.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency granted a request on Thursday by Governor Jerry Brown for expanded financial aid that was first allocated for the Thomas Fire, the governor’s office said.
Residents of the mudslide-hit area were assessing their damaged homes, with some grateful that their properties survived.
“We have a yard to redo and hopefully our insurance will help out with that, but the people across from me, newer homes, gone,” said Garrett Speirs, a 54-year-old artist who has been living in Montecito for 20 years.
“Everybody down below gone, two girls gone,” Speirs said. “Two sixth graders in the school our kids went to.”