Officials Double Down on Rescue Efforts in Wake of Montecito Mudslide

'Public Safety Exclusion Zone' Declared to Reduce Rescue-Area Congestion; Corrected Death Toll Stands at 15

Search & Rescue personnel make their way up and down Hot Springs Road, conducting vehicle and watercraft rescues.

Brandon Yadegari

Search & Rescue personnel make their way up and down Hot Springs Road, conducting vehicle and watercraft rescues.

With the death toll from the Montecito mudslide at 15 as of Wednesday morning — not 16, as county officials reported last night — rescue efforts have been ramped up. As of 6 a.m., incident commanders reported there were still 24 missing individuals and 100 sheltered in place. With search dogs, rescue crews, and five helicopters, the plan is to get as many as can be got. “Our premise is there are still survivable victims out there,” said Gary Pitney with the Santa Barbara Fire Department. Others involved in the effort have wondered where the missing could still be, suggesting the death toll from the disaster may wind up considerably higher.

One hundred single residences were reported destroyed and another 300 damaged. Eight non-residential properties were also destroyed and another 20 damaged.

On Tuesday, helicopters helped make 50 rescues and ground crew helped make another 50 more. Those rescues involved individuals who were physically okay but needed help getting out from where they were, said public information officer Amber Anderson. Many of those still missing or sheltering in place are located north of Highway 192. Conditions have not improved much in the past 24 hours to make access easier.

Last night, incident commanders announced the creation of strict "public safety exclusion zones" designed to keep the curious and gawkers away. “It’s strict. It prohibits even people who are sheltering in place from walking around. If they do so, even they will be arrested,” said Anderson. “Rescue is our number-one priority,” she said. She added that the heavy volume of looky-loos prevented work from taking place to clear Highway 101. “We couldn’t start because of all the people,” she said.

Yesterday, Caltrans dispatched five front loaders to Santa Barbara to help get freeway clearing underway, plus 20 large trucks to haul the soil and debris away. “But it’s like trying to shovel soup,” said City of Santa Barbara Public Works czar Rebecca Bjork. City Police Chief Lori Luhnow disclosed the day before the mudslides struck that her officers patrolled stretches of the railroad tracks within city jurisdiction to get the homeless people living in encampments along the tracks to leave.

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