California mudslides death toll rises to 19

Crews worked throughout the day Saturday to clear debris basins and officials said there was still a lot more work to be done.

Published: 14th January 2018 07:34 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th January 2018 08:28 AM   |  A+A-

A fire department personnel searches a home on Saturday in Montecito, California. Most of the people of Montecito were under orders to stay out of town as gas and power were expected to be shut off Saturday for repairs. (AP)

By Associated Press

MONTECITO (US): The death toll from the mudslides in a California coastal town rose to 19 today but a man who had also been on the list of missing persons was located alive, authorities said.

The body of Morgan Christine Corey, 25, was found in mud and debris in Montecito, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said. Her 12-year-old sister, Sawyer, had been found dead earlier.

"We ask that you keep this devastated family in your thoughts and prayers," Brown said.

Another person who had been on the list of missing, 62- year-old Delbert Weltzin, was found alive and well, Brown said without elaborating on the circumstances.

The two developments reduced the number of missing from seven to five.

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

The army of searchers and recovery workers in Montecito swelled to more than 2,000 five days after a powerful storm swept in from the Pacific and dumped a deluge on mountain slopes above the coastal enclave that were burned bare by a huge wildfire in December.

The backbreaking work went on in the summerlike weather that has made the stretch of Santa Barbara County coast about 145 kilometers northwest of Los Angeles a haven for the wealthy, celebrities and tourists.

"We have to do whatever it takes," said Capt. Tom Henzgen, leader of a team from the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Long-range forecasts gave the crews about a week before the next chance of rain and potential new mudslides -- although the precipitation was expected to be disorganised and light. Another system was possible two days later.

Crews worked throughout the day Saturday to clear debris basins and officials said there was still a lot more work to be done. But Tom Fara, the deputy director of the county's flood control district, said the crews were making great progress and he was confident that at least a base level of water would be able to pass through the creek channels.

Much of the community of about 9,000 remained under mandatory evacuation orders, even unscathed areas, as crews both removed debris and worked to restore water, sanitation, power and gas. All warnings and orders for neighboring Summerland and Carpinteria were lifted.

Brown urged anyone in mandatory evacuation areas to leave immediately. 

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