Rescue efforts end for California mudslide victims

By Susan McFarland  |  Jan. 15, 2018 at 9:58 AM
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Jan. 15 (UPI) -- Officials said search and rescue operations for mudslide victims in Montecito, Calif., ended and transitioned to a search and recovery phase.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Sunday the transition will allow authorities to release resources that are no longer needed as the operation moves at a slower pace.

A candlelight vigil was held at the Santa Barbara Courthouse on Sunday to honor and remember the victims.

At least 20 people have died because of the mudslides and four people were missing. On Sunday, searchers found the latest victim, 30-year-old Pinit Sutthithepa.

Sutthithepa's 2-year-old daughter is among the missing. Searchers found both his 6-year-old son and 79-year-old father-in-law dead Jan. 9.

Those killed all lived in Montecito, northwest of Los Angeles, and ranged in age from 3 to 89, authorities said. Rescuers have been searching for the missing since the deadly mudslides began Tuesday, plowing rivers of mud and boulders through neighborhoods and demolishing homes.

Officials were rushing to clear debris in advance of another possible storm. Santa Barbara County Emergency Management Director Rob Lewin said blocked drainage channels in the Montecito area could lead to "more mud and flow" even if a storm of "less intensity" hits the area.

U.S. 101, a major north-south freeway, remained closed on Monday. It is not clear when the highway would reopen.

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