California mudslides death toll rises to 20, 4 still missing

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Montecito, California
An aerial view from a Ventura Country Sheriff helicopter shows a site damaged by mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. January 9, 2018. (Ventura County Sheriff's Office/via REUTERS)

The death toll in the devastating mudslides that destroyed many homes in Montecito, California has risen to 20, as the week-old search operations continue. Four people are listed as still missing, while hundreds of rescue workers assisted by dogs and scanners are working to find them.

On Sunday, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office announced that the 30-year-old Pinit Sutthithepa, who was at the time listed as missing, had been found dead on Saturday. His two-year-old daughter, Lydia, meanwhile, is still missing.

Pinit’s six-year-old son, Peerawat, and 79-year-old father-in-law Richard Loring Taylor were both found dead on Jan. 9, the day of the disaster.

Aside from Lydia, the three other missing persons are 17-year-old John “Jack” Cantin, 28-year-old Faviola Benitez Calderon, and 53-year-old John “Jack” Keating.

Those who were killed by the mudslides ranged in age from 3 to 89. They all lived in the affluent seaside neighborhood of Montecito in Santa Barbara County, just 85 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

The Sheriff’s Office also said Sunday night that the search and rescue operation had been shifted to a search and recovery effort. However, rescuers are not losing hope that they may still find survivors among the muddy debris of wrecked houses and properties.

“In disaster circumstances, there have been many miraculous stories of people lasting many days. We certainly are searching for a miracle right now,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said. “But realistically we suspect that we are going to continue to have discovery of people who were killed in this incident.”

The disaster has caused the greatest loss of life from a mudslide in California in 13 years. The devastation covered an area of 30 square miles, as the mudslides destroyed 65 single family homes and damaged 450 others. Around 30 commercial properties were also damaged or destroyed in the incident.