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California mudslides: Death toll rises to 20, 4 still missing

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01:14 - Source: CNN
Rivers of mud wreak havoc in California
CNN —  

At least 20 people have died as a result of the mudslides that devastated Montecito, California, according to the California Department of Fire and Forestry Protection.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office announced Sunday that 30-year-old Pinit Sutthithepa had been found dead on Saturday. Four people remain missing.

Sutthithepa’s 2-year-old daughter, Lydia, is among the missing, the sheriff’s office said. Sutthithepa’s 6-year-old son, Peerawat, and his 79-year-old father-in-law, Richard Loring Taylor, were both found dead on January 9.

The mudslides came in the early morning hours of Tuesday, destroying an estimated 65 homes and damaging hundreds of others, the Cal Fire release said.

Rescue crews continue to sift through mud and wreckage looking for the missing, said Cal Fire, adding, “The large amounts of mud and debris are making access and progress challenging.”

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown announced Saturday that search and rescue crews had found the body of 25-year-old Morgan Corey, whose 12-year-old sister, Sawyer, was found dead earlier in the week.

Those killed ranged in age from 3 to 89, and all lived in Montecito in Santa Barbara County, northwest of Los Angeles, authorities said.

In addition to Lydia Sutthithepa, John “Jack” Cantin, 17; Faviola Benitez Calderon, 28; and John “Jack” Keating, 53 are missing.

Sunday night the sheriff’s office said the search-and-rescue operation is now a search-and-recovery effort.

Rescuers have been searching frantically for the missing since rivers of mud and boulders plowed through neighborhoods in and near Montecito, an affluent seaside community east of Santa Barbara, demolishing homes and leaving roads impassable.

“In disaster circumstances, there have been many miraculous stories of people lasting many days. We certainly are searching for a miracle right now,” Brown said Thursday.

“But realistically we suspect that we are going to continue to have discovery of people who were killed in this incident.”

How to help the victims of the California mudslides

US 101, a major freeway connecting Northern and Southern California, remains closed. It’s not clear when the highway – which officials had said would reopen on Monday – will be cleared for travel.

The exact timing of the freeway’s reopening is unknown, California Highway Patrol Captain Cindy Pontes said Friday.

Evacuation zone increased

The areas where people were killed are under mandatory evacuation, and officials increased the size of the evacuation zone Thursday as authorities continue their search and rescue efforts.

“We know that this a terribly inconvenient development, but it is also incredibly necessary,” Brown said. “This entire area is a very active rescue and recovery and repair zone right now.”