California Storms

Bill Asher walks through mud in his home damaged by storms in Montecito Thursday. Rescue workers slogged through knee-deep ooze and used long poles to probe for bodies as the search dragged on for mudslide victims.

Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP

The number of people still missing in the wake of a deadly mudslide in Montecito now figures at five, officials said Friday morning.

Authorities said late Thursday that roughly 43 people were unaccounted for after heavy rains pounded the Thomas fire burn scar earlier this week and unleashed a torrent of mud, boulders and debris that killed 17 and destroyed scores of homes. The number of missing had grown, officials said, after authorities combed through social media posts and message boards at evacuation shelters.

Many of those people have since been reported safe, according to Chris Elms, a spokesman for Cal Fire, but the number of people missing remains fluid.

“We’re starting to get to the phase where people are actually calling in and saying, ‘If you’re looking for me, I’m OK,’” Elms said.

Rescue efforts will continue Friday in the ravaged community. Elms said emergency crews are still trying to fight their way through roadways made inaccessible by mudflow in the hopes of locating more survivors.

“There is still a large area to be searched,” he said. “The mud and the debris is hindering progress, it’s just slow going out there. It continues as a search-and-rescue mission.”

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The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office released the names of the 17 dead on Thursday, all of whom were Montecito residents. They ranged in age from 3 to 89 years old.

They dead were identified as Jonathan Benitez, 10; Kailly Benitez, 3; Martin Cabrera-Munoz, 48; David Cantin, 49; Sawyer Corey, 12; Peter Fleurat, 73; Josephine Gower, 69; John McManigal, 61; Alice Mitchell, 78; James Mitchell, 89; Mark Montgomery, 54; Caroline Montgomery, 22; Marilyn Ramos, 27; Rebecca Riskin, 61; Roy Rohter, 84; Peerawat Sutthithepn, 6; and Richard Taylor, 67.

The county coroner has listed the cause of death for each victim as “multiple traumatic injuries due to flash flood with mudslides due to recent wildfire.”

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Thursday that officials were expanding mandatory evacuation zones in the area because pedestrians and traffic are hindering rescue and repair operations.

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