3 remain missing in deadly California mudslides

Updated 8:14 PM EST, Mon January 15, 2018
01:14 - Source: CNN
Rivers of mud wreak havoc in California

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At least 20 people have died in the mudslides

DA to citizenry: Avoid affected areas

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.

Hampered by blocked roads, downed trees and power lines, deputies searched for John “Jack” Cantin, 17 and Faviola Benitez Calderon, 28.

Lydia Sutthithepa, 2, is also among the missing. Her father, Pinit Sutthithepa, 30, was found dead on Saturday.

John “Jack” Keating, 53, who had been listed as missing, was found alive in Ventura, the sherrif’s office said Monday. Keating, who is a transient, was in Carpinteria during the storm, not in Montecito as previously thought, the sherrif’s office said. He sent the sheriff’s office a selfie with his dog, “Tiny.”

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.

The rain poured down on hillsides charred by recent wildfires, which burned vegetation that otherwise could make the terrain more resistant to mudslides.

The Thomas Fire – the largest wildfire in California’s recorded history – burned more than 281,000 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties from early December into this month. It wasn’t fully contained until Friday.

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.

Now, what had been a search-and-rescue operation authorities is a search-and-recovery undertaking. The crews probably won’t be hampered by bad weather most of this week. The first chance of rain will come Thursday night to Friday and it is estimated to amount generally to less than a third of an inch, CNN meteorologists said.

How to help the victims of the California mudslides

The cleanup effort is arduous. Santa Barbara District Attorney Joyce Dudley said in a statement Sunday those who “encumber the continuing rescue efforts by unnecessarily entering the affected areas” could face fines and even jail.

She noted that the area is west of Sheffield Drive/East Valley Road/Ladera Lane, east of Olive Mill/Hot Springs Road, north of the ocean, and south of the US Forest Service boundary.

A Cal Fire search and rescue crew at a storm-damaged home in Montecito.
Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
A Cal Fire search and rescue crew at a storm-damaged home in Montecito.

“Those areas are not only active search areas, but also remain dangerous. Therefore, unauthorized persons who enter those areas will not only interfere with critical and time-urgent search and rescue efforts, but may also become victims themselves.”

A portion of US 101 – a major freeway connecting Northern and Southern California – will remain closed for at least another week through Montecito because of ongoing clean-up and repairs, and rain in the weekend forecast, according to the California Department of Transportation.

CNN’s Faith Karimi, Steve Almasy, Dakin Andone and Cheri Mossburg contributed to this report.