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California police hope for "miracle" to find missing in mudslide

14 January 2018

The seven missing people included Fabiola Benitez, the mother of Jonathan Benitez, a 10-year-old killed in the flooding.

Although search efforts are underway, Sheriff's detectives are actively working on locating persons reported to the Emergency Operations Center and Santa Barbara County Public Safety Dispatch Center.

About 100 homes have been destroyed and 300 others damaged in Montecito, a community known for its multimillion-dollar properties.

"While every hour it remains less likely that we will find anyone alive, there is always hope", the sheriff said.

The search for victims of the disaster has carried on in Montecito, where crews are labouring to fix power, water and gas lines as well as clean up massive debris.

The cause of death for most of the victims will be listed as multiple traumatic injuries resulting from flash floods with mudslides, the Santa Barbara Sheriff's office said.

The evacuation area includes the communities of Summerland and Carpinteria. "There's been plenty of cases where they've found people a week after", Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason said earlier on a muddy Montecito street especially hard-hit by the mudslide.

Henzgen, the Los Angeles Fire Department captain, pointed to a almost empty lot.

Brown urged anyone in mandatory evacuation areas to leave immediately.

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"This entire area is a very active rescue and recovery and fix zone right now", he said. Tanker trucks were being used to haul off floodwaters sucked up from U.S. Highway 101, the crippled coastal route connecting Santa Barbara to Ventura.

The California Department of Transportation abandoned an estimate of reopening the highway on Monday and said it was not known when the closure would be lifted.

Montecito and Carpinteria are especially vulnerable to mudslides because the steep terrain in some places goes from thousands of feet above sea level to sea level in just a few miles, said Tom Fayram, a deputy public works director with Santa Barbara County.

A backhoe scooped up mud and rocks around buckled and flattened homes, while bulldozers cleared roads of tangled trees, muck and boulders.

In one of the hardest hit areas, a silver Mercedes-Benz, its front and rear fenders completely destroyed, sat atop a tree stump, the only thing left where a home once Saturday.

"We're going to tear them apart piece by piece and search each pile thoroughly and make sure there's nobody in there", Henzgen said.

The U.S. Forest Service made the announcement Friday after aerial surveys of the 440-square-mile (1,140-square-kilometer) scar left by the so-called Thomas fire.

It erupted December 4 in Ventura County and destroyed more than 1,000 structures as it swept through the city of Ventura and then threatened Carpinteria, Summerland and Santa Barbara.

California police hope for