Rescue efforts continue in Santa Barbara County, Calif., where the number of people missing in Tuesday's massive mudslides has dropped to eight from 17, while the death toll remained at 17 in the most recent official tally.
Search teams are leading rescue efforts for people who were caught in the deluge of mud and debris that swamped houses, crumpled cars, and sent boulders careening through streets.
Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Amber Anderson told NPR that the new figures released on Thursday reflect the sheriff department's investigations of missing-persons reports. Earlier in the day, reports had mistakenly listed the number of missing at 48 — a figure that Anderson said was a clerical error.
The death and destruction are a result of mudslides that were triggered when heavy rains hit hills that were recently devastated by wildfires.
KCLU reporter Lance Orozco writes:
"Search and rescue efforts on Wednesday led to the rescue of three additional people, as well as the recovery of two bodies. As of Wednesday night, officials say the nearly 500 people involved in search efforts had gone through about 75 percent of the 50-plus homes destroyed, and nearly 450 damaged in their hunt for more survivors."
The intensity of the devastation and the difficulty of traversing rivers of mud and debris have made it a challenge for local officials to get an accurate tally of the damage.
While people remain unaccounted for, the death toll is expected to climb, Danielle Karson reports for NPR.
Southern California Public Radio reports:
A crew of 700 were on scene early Thursday helping with search, rescue and cleanup, hailing from a wide range of law enforcement, military and local organizations, including urban search and rescue, swift water rescue, sheriff and police personnel, U.S. Navy and Coast Guard and utility company representatives, according to Amber Anderson with the Santa Barbara Fire Department.
Crews have worked day and night facing difficult conditions, digging through a thick sludge 15 feet deep or more, as well as downed trees, boulders, loose ground and even buried swimming pools, which can pose a threat to rescuers who can't see what's under their feet
Officials say the region remains unstable due to flooding, debris flow, downed trees and power lines.
In other updates:
- There has been extensive damage to the water supply infrastructure and residents are instructed to boil water before drinking it.
- The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department on Wednesday declared a Public Safety Zone in Monecito, where most of the missing have been reported. They are asking people to "stay out of the area so that rescuers can do their job."
- Emergency service agencies have shut off natural gas to most parts of Montecito as they await repairs. It's expected to be several days before restoration.
- Power outages are affecting over 6,000 homes and businesses, primarily in the Montecito area.