Death Toll Climbs To 19 In California Mudslides
The death toll from the mudslides in a California coastal town rose to 19 on Saturday 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.
Corey's 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.
In addition to trying to find those who are still missing after Tuesday morning's storm, crews have made it a top priority to clear out debris basins and creek canals before another rainstorm. 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 disorganized and light. Another system was possible two days later.
The two discoveries Saturday 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.
A doctor and his daughter who died in the arms of her brother were among the 19 people killed in devastating mudslides.
Other victims included a young mother asleep with her 3-year-old daughter as her 10-year-old nephew slumbered nearby, and a woman and her 89-year-old husband of more than 50 years who celebrated his birthday the day before.
Lalo Barajas' partner of 17 years, Peter Fleurat, died in the mudslides. All Barajas has left to remember Fleurat are the mementos he found a half mile from their house. He says they lived in a voluntary evacuation zone, so they decided to ride out Tuesday's storm. Then the mudslide hit.
"This is all I have, everything is gone," Lalo Barajas told CBS News' Carter Evans. "The floor, felt like it had no support at all, it was rolling underneath me," Barajas said. "The walls just burst open, the mud came in and just shot us both out of the house."
They were soon pulled in different directions.
"The last thing Peter yelled out to me was 'Lalo, grab onto some wood and don't let go.' And that was the last I heard of him," he recounted.
The backbreaking work went on in the summerlike weather that has made the stretch of Santa Barbara County coast about 90 miles 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 disorganized 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 Fayram, 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.
"It is not a safe or convenient place to be right now," he said.
Tanker trucks sucked muddy water from flooded sections of U.S. 101, the only direct major artery between Los Angeles and the Santa Barbara region.
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.
Amtrak, which began restoring rail service two days after the flood, was adding cars to trains because of heavy demand. Two boat companies that normally take tourists out to Channel Islands National Park and on whale-watching excursions were ferrying people between the Ventura and Santa Barbara harbors.