Death toll from California mudslides rises to 19

Montecito mudslide MAP: Where is Ellen DeGeneres' house in Santa Barbara, California?

The death toll from mudslides that devastated parts of California's scenic Santa Barbara County rose to 19 on Saturday amid a massive influx of emergency crews searching for five people still missing. U.S. Route 101, California's primary coastal route, remains partially shut down.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Joseph Bleckel had been on the missing list before they found him.

At noon on Saturday, the evacuation warning issued for areas south of Highway 192 between Ortega Ridge Road to the Santa Barbara County line will be lifted.

"It is a little frustrating", said Sarah Ettman, whose home was undamaged and whose section of town still had gas and electricity.

They also said trains and ferries are providing alternative transportation.

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

"We know that this a terribly inconvenient development, but it is also incredibly necessary", Brown said. Brown apologized for the inconvenience, but he called the area "a very active rescue and recovery and fix zone right now".

He said the zone, which includes areas formerly under voluntary evacuation advisories, would be in effect for one week but that residents should plan for two.

It was another hard turn for those living in the Southern California town that has been subject to repeated evacuation orders in recent weeks, first because of a monster wildfire last month, then because of downpours and mudslides. He and his parents put belongings in three cars in case they chose to leave before the storm.




"We had contemplated leaving, yet we had quite recently had the flames", he stated, alluding to the current rapidly spreading fires that stripped the zone of required vegetation.

"Where do you go when you're a family of four and you don't have a second house?" Santa Barbara has the closest trauma center to the scene of the disaster. and a lot of nurses that work there just simply couldn't get to work.

UPDATE (8 p.m.) - A vigil will be held tomorrow to remember those who passed away following Tuesday morning's mudslides. The rain poured down on hillsides charred by recent wildfires, which burned vegetation that otherwise could make the terrain more resistant to mudslides.

The deluge that washed over Santa Barbara County early Tuesday was devastating for a community that was ravaged by the Thomas fire only a few weeks earlier.

Furthermore, as a result of the fire, groups underneath the scarred territory could stay in danger of mudslides for quite a long time, said Randall Jibson, an exploration geologist with the US Geological Survey.

"(But) no storm brings down everything that is susceptible. "There's quite often more" that could descend, Jibson said.

More than 2,000 workers have been clearing debris since the storm, using backhoes, jackhammers and chain saws.

Search-and-rescue operations are the priority for crews working in the closed area from Milpas Street to Highway 150, and that affects progress toward reopening the highway, a Caltrans spokeswoman said.

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