California mudslides: Oprah, Ellen put spotlight on horrors of Southern California disasters


At a news conference Thursday where he said 43 were missing, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the updated figure was an "inclusive" number that encompassed several definitions of "missing".

The mudslides and floodwaters have destroyed around 100 homes, with another 300 residences damaged, within Santa Barbara County. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office released the names of the dead, who were all Montecito residents.

Another person confirmed dead Thursday was 73-year-old Peter Fleurat of Montecito, his niece told the outlet.

Those wildfires have also been blamed for worsening the mudslide death toll.

"We know that this is a terribly inconvenient development, but it is also incredibly necessary", Brown said.

First responders have searched about 75 percent of the debris field left by a torrent of boulders, detritus and muck, according to Brown.

Current estimates suggest there are still more than 6,000 people in "moderate" danger zones, more than 3,300 in "low" danger zones and just less than 1,000 living in "high" danger zones.

Emergency crews rescued three people Wednesday, using helicopters to reach residents trapped in canyon areas that were rendered inaccessible by mud, downed power lines and fallen trees.

Experts say it is important for emergency management officials to warn as many people as people about potential threats, but disasters can change course in an instant.

Rescue workers slogged through knee-deep ooze and used long poles to probe for bodies Thursday as the search dragged on for victims of the mudslides that slammed this wealthy coastal town.

Officials said secondary searches of damaged structures were under way.

Montecito and Carpinteria are especially vulnerable to mudslides because the steep terrain in some places goes from thousands of feet above sea level to sea level in just a few miles, said Tom Fayram, a deputy public works director with Santa Barbara County.

In many cases, the mud burst through homes, sweeping victims away.

Fabiola Benitez, 28, was swept away along with her husband and two children when her house was leveled during Tuesday's deluge, according to Lori Lieberman, a family friend. He was a real estate broker, and the founder of St. Augustine Academy in Ventura. Theresa was rescued and hospitalized in stable condition. In the video, mud and water can be seen filling the bottom floor of the house Mr Farrell shares with his elderly parents, Gabrielle and Jeff.

"Auto and pedestrian traffic in the exclusionary zone has reached a point that it is seriously impacting the ability of search and rescue, public works, other first responders and fix crews to clear roadways and to engage in search and rescue, fix and damage-assessment operations", he said.

In addition, eight commercial buildings were destroyed and 20 were damaged.

Gas and electricity supplies were expected to be cut off in the area on Saturday.

Laura Camp, a spokesperson for the Montecito water district, said the boiled water notice is still in effect for the entire district.