MONTECITO, Calif. (AP) — The number of people still missing in the deadly mudslides that destroyed 59 homes and killed at least 17 people was raised to 48 Thursday morning.
Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Amber Anderson said the new number was tallied from sheriff’s investigations of missing-persons reports. The number of missing persons has fluctuated since the disaster hit early Tuesday morning and had been as low as 16 on Wednesday evening.
Meanwhile, hundreds of rescue workers slogged through knee-deep ooze and used long poles to probe for bodies as the search dragged on for victims of the mudslides that slammed into Montecito.
Family members anxiously awaited word on loved ones who hadn’t been heard from since the onslaught early Tuesday.
“It’s just waiting and not knowing, and the more I haven’t heard from them — we have to find them,” said Kelly Weimer, whose elderly parents’ home was wrecked. The couple, Jim and Alice Mitchell, did not heed a voluntary evacuation warning and stayed home to celebrate Jim Mitchell’s 89th birthday.
As search dogs clambered on heaps of wood that used to be homes, mud-spattered rescue teams from all over California worked their way through the ruins of Montecito, an enclave of 9,000 people northwest of Los Angeles that is home to celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey.
It was left covered with thick muck, boulders, wrecked cars, splintered lumber and tree limbs in a scene Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown likened to a World War I battlefield.
County officials said late Wednesday that the death toll stood at 17. After a better look at the damage, officials lowered the number of destroyed homes from 100 to 59 and raised the number of damaged ones from 300 to 446.
Overall, 28 people were injured. Twelve remained hospitalized, four in critical condition.
By Wednesday, some 500 searchers had covered about 75 percent of the inundated area, authorities said. They had a long slog ahead, filled with hazards seen and unseen.
“A lot of the street signs are gone, the roads are impassable. It all has to be done on foot,” said Deputy Dan Page, chief of a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department rescue team.
Rescue crews worked up to 12 hours a day and risked stepping on nails or shattered glass, or being exposed to raw sewage, or dealing with leaking gas, Page said.
“We’ve gotten multiple reports of rescuers falling through manholes that were covered with mud, swimming pools that were covered…