Rescue efforts are continuing around the Southern California town of Montecito following a devastating series of mudslides that have already claimed the lives of 17 people. Some reports are indicating that as many as 43 people are still missing in the aftermath of the horrific deluge, though there is some confusion over whether this figure is accurate.
“It doesn’t mean that they (the 43 people) are all actively missing,” said Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown.
The total on Thursday morning was reported as 48 then revised to eight due to a “clerical error,” according to a tweet from the sheriff’s office.
The youngest victim, Kailly Benitez, is just 3-years-old. She was one of four children who have now been confirmed dead. Sawyer Corey is yet another child who has now been confirmed as a fatality. The 12-year-old’s family had pleaded for her rescue after she and her sister Morgan were reported missing after the floods. Morgan has still not been located.
Thr rest of the family managed to survive the onslaught of sludge, boulders and debris. Sawyer’s twin sister, Summer, and their mother, Carie Baker, were found and are now recovering at a local hospital, according to Baker’s nephew, Logan Kessler.
“It doesn’t even seem real. It’s been a blur,” he said of the tragedy, as reported by People. “[I felt] scared, helpless and pain for those girls. I couldn’t sleep last night, knowing they were still alone.”
In addition to Sawyer, Jonathan Benitez, 10, and Peerawat Suthhithepn, 6, have been confirmed to have lost their lives in the floods. Authorities have named the other victims as:
David Cantin, 49; Peter Fleurat, 73; Josephine Gower, 69; John McManigal, 61; Alice Mitchell, 78; James Mitchell, 89; Mark Montgomery, 22; Marilyn Ramos, 27; Rebecca Riskin, 61; Roy Rohter, 84 and Richard Taylor, 67.
It is with heavy hearts we share that our dear friend and partner, Rebecca Riskin, has passed away as a result of the…
Roy Rohter was the founder of St Augustine Academy, a small private Catholic school in Ventura. “Roy’s life has been in service to his good, loving and ever-forgiving God,” headmaster Michael Van Hecke said in a statement. “He has done so much for so many people and pro-life and Catholic education causes … Thousands have been blessed by the Rohters’ friendship and generosity.”
Rebecca Riskin was the founding partner of real estate business Riskin Partners in Montecito. “The confirmation of her loss is incredibly devastating to her friends, family, and our community,” the firm posted on Facebook. “Per her wishes, we intend to carry out her life’s work with the same strength, grace and elegance that wholly defined Rebecca.”
The coroner’s office has confirmed that the cause of death for the deceased will be recorded as “multiple traumatic injuries due to flash flood with mudslides due to recent wildfire.”
Rescuers continue to scour the vast area of devastation, hunting for any signs of life. “A majority of Montecito and that whole area is in the Stone Age right now,” Mike Eliason, public information officer for the Santa Barbara county fire department, told reporters on Wednesday. “We’re actively pursuing trying to get in there as quick as we can to get those people to safety.”
#CAstorm– Members of Santa Barbara County Fire Department’s Task Force 1 meet and discuss their day at the conclusion of their 12-hr shift working Search & Rescue operations in Montecito. pic.twitter.com/nViWQmC3ZI
— SBCFireInfo (@EliasonMike) January 12, 2018
It has been reported that many of those who have suffered damage and injury did not heed the warnings of officials to evacuate immediately. “I think all of us have learned our lessons on this one. We were all bad children and ignored the warning,” said David Cradduck, 66, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.
He explained how residents were exhausted from the relentless season of wildfires that devastated their community, and they just wanted to stay put. “We were all tired of it. Now here we are, shovels in hand, trying to get our vehicles out. Mother Nature came back and dealt us a big blow, but it’s our fault. We should have heeded the warning,” he said.
When the mud came, Josie Gower was overpowered and swept away as she clung her door frame. She was discovered over a mile away, and could only be identified by her fingerprints. Her boyfriend, Norm Borgatello, was swept away and found himself pinned by a boulder against a fence. For more than six hours, he fought to keep himself alive, sreaming “Josie! Josie!”
“We’ve had nothing like this at all, nothing like this has happened in Santa Barbara’s history, and nobody was prepared,” said Gower’s son Hayden. “The night before I told her, ‘Why don’t you come stay here?’ and now of course I wish I would have pushed her,” Josie’s friend Breezy Haigh said Thursday, as reported by the New York Times.
““I feel like the county let us down. During the fire, they took so much precaution. People didn’t take this seriously. If it had been a mandatory, she would still be here.”
“She was the life of the party, every party,” Ms. Haigh added. “For her, every party was the ‘party of the century.’”
Despite the chances of finding survivors becoming ever slimmer as time marches on, Sheriff Bill Brown is still holding out hope as he expands the search zone and rescuers valiantly pick through the debris.
— SBCFireInfo (@EliasonMike) January 11, 2018
“This entire area is a very active rescue and recovery and repair zone right now,” he said in announcing the new evacuation boundaries.
“We certainly are searching for a miracle right now,” he said.
Do pray for all the victims and their families at this incredibly difficult time.