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Number of people missing in deadly Montecito slide reduced to five, officials say

Los Angeles Times logo Los Angeles Times 1/12/2018 James Queally

Crews pump mud on Highway 101 after a mudslide Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Montecito, Calif.  Most of the people of Montecito, a town usually known for its serenity and luxury, were under orders to stay out of town as gas and power were expected to be shut off Saturday for repairs. In pictures: Deadly California mudslides Slideshow by photo services

The number of people still missing in the wake of a deadly mudslide in Montecito now figures at five, officials said Friday morning.

Authorities said late Thursday that roughly 43 people were unaccounted for after heavy rains pounded the Thomas fire burn scar earlier this week and unleashed a torrent of mud, boulders and debris that killed 17 and destroyed scores of homes. The number of missing had grown, officials said, after authorities combed through social media posts and message boards at evacuation shelters.

Many of those people since have been reported safe, according to Chris Elms, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, but the number of people missing remains fluid.

“We’re starting to get to the phase where people are actually calling in and saying, ‘If you’re looking for me, I’m OK,’ ” Elms said.

Rescue efforts continued Friday in the ravaged community. Elms said emergency crews are still trying to fight their way through roadways made inaccessible by mudflow in the hopes of locating more people. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Thursday that officials were expanding mandatory evacuation zones because pedestrians and traffic are hindering rescue and repair operations.

“There is still a large area to be searched,” he said. “The mud and the debris is hindering progress. It’s just slow going out there. It continues as a search and rescue mission.”

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday released the names of the 17 dead, all of whom were Montecito residents. They ranged in age from 3 to 89 years old.

They dead were identified as:

  • Jonathan Benitez, 10
  • Kailly Benitez, 3
  • Martin Cabrera-Munoz, 48
  • David Cantin, 49
  • Sawyer Corey, 12
  • Peter Fleurat, 73
  • Josephine Gower, 69
  • John McManigal, 61
  • Alice Mitchell, 78
  • James Mitchell, 89
  • Mark Montgomery, 54
  • Caroline Montgomery, 22
  • Marilyn Ramos, 27
  • Rebecca Riskin, 61
  • Roy Rohter, 84
  • Peerawat Sutthithepn, 6
  • Richard Taylor, 67

The county coroner has listed the cause of death for each victim as “multiple traumatic injuries due to flash flood with mudslides due to recent wildfire.” The Thomas fire, which set the stage for this week’s devastation, was declared 100% contained Friday morning, officials said.

The fire burned for more than a month, though its spread was contained several weeks ago. In the end, the blaze burned 281,893 acres.

james.queally@latimes.com

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for crime and police news in California.

UPDATES:

10:45 a.m.: This article was updated with additional details about the Thomas fire.

This article was originally published at 8:25 a.m.

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