Search and rescue dogs have been brought in to help emergency responders find the four people still missing after California’s deadly mudslides on Tuesday.
The death toll from mudslides that devastated parts of California’s scenic Santa Barbara County rose to 20 on Sunday amid a massive influx of emergency crews searching for four people still missing, according to Cal Fire’s latest update.
‘The unstable environment remains a critical threat to civilians and responders,’ a fact sheet released on Sunday said.
‘The large amounts of mud and debris are making access and progress challenging. Search and rescue remains the highest priority.’
Oprah, who owns a home in the affected area, shared video meeting the people and animals working to save lives on her Instagram page on Saturday.
‘Thanks everyone for your prayers and concern,’ Oprah wrote with an earlier video showcasing the devastation experienced by others in her community, shared Wednesday.
‘My property is fine. Some mud, and minor damage that pales in comparison to what my neighbors are going through.’
A total of 28 people have been injured as of Sunday, as a resulted of the catastrophe, Cal Fire said.
One missing person was found alive on Saturday but chances were dwindling fast that more survivors could still be located from the torrent of mud and debris that struck on Tuesday, said Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown.
‘While every hour it remains less likely we’ll find anyone alive, there remains hope,’ he said at a news conference.
Emergency responders explained to Oprah how they train the animals that they hope will find the remaining four missing individuals, possibly dead but hopefully alive.
‘These two, (gesturing to two of the three search and rescue dogs seen in the video), do live find only, so they only find live buried people,’ one responder said.
‘Mondo (the yellow labrador retriever seen in the video) is a cadaver dog, so he’s a recovery specialist,’ he said.
‘We train with people buried in the rubble, we teach them that that’s how they get rewarded,’ he explained.
The man went on to explain how that works in a simulated search and rescue situation, for training purposes.
‘When they actually find someone they continuously bark, barking at the largest concentration of scent, and that buried person is our victim, and they produce a toy that [the dogs] get to tug on,’ he said.
‘When it’s the real thing, we [meaning the first responders on the scene with the workings dogs], produce that toy, but they think barking at that buried person gets them their paycheck, which is that toy, and that’s what they work for.
The 20th victim has not been identified at this time, officials said Sunday morning on the west coast.
Brown said a 19th victim had been found and named her as Morgan Corey, 25. Her 12-year-old sister Sawyer had previously been discovered dead after their home was swept away this week.
Corey and Morgan were sleeping when the mud smashed into their home.
Seven people had still been counted missing at the start of Saturday, according to Cal Fire, which saw about another 900 emergency personnel arrive in Montecito, north of Los Angeles, to join the relief effort under way by more than 2,100 personnel from local, state and federal agencies, including the US Coast Guard, the US Navy and the American Red Cross.
‘We have to do whatever it takes,’ said Capt Tom Henzgen, leader of a team from the Los Angeles Fire Department.
The ramped-up rescue effort is in response to urgent requests for additional manpower made earlier in the week.
‘We need that number to effectively meet our objectives,’ said Amber Anderson, a spokesman for the multi-agency response team. ‘To get people here takes time and we’re finally getting that request for influx.’
On Friday, the sheriff’s office made a plea for information on any of the missing residents, who range in age from two to 62.
The disaster struck on Tuesday after heavy rains drenched the area near Montecito, where vegetation had been stripped bare by the largest wildfire in California’s history.
Rain-soaked hillsides gave way, unleashing a sudden, violent stream of mud, water, uprooted trees and boulders onto the valley below and killing victims, now know to be ages 3 to 89.
The destruction covered 30 square miles, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.
Officials ordered residents in most of the southeastern corner of Montecito, which is east of Santa Barbara, to leave their homes for what was likely to be 1-2 weeks.
A young mother asleep with her 3-year-old daughter as her 10-year-old nephew slumbered nearby were among those killed.
Other victims included a 22-year-old woman who died in the arms of her brother as he frantically tried to save her after their father was swept to his death by the fast-moving river of mud.
Here are their stories and those of others in a community where victims ranged from captains of industry to the people who manicure their lawns.
Marilyn Ramos, Kaelly Benitez and Jonathan Benitez
Marilyn Ramos was asleep in bed with her three-year-old daughter, Kaelly Benitez, when the deadly mudslide came crashing through their Montecito rental home, carrying both to their deaths.
Also killed was Kaelly’s 10-year-old cousin, Jonathan Benitez, who was asleep nearby.
Marilyn’s husband, Antonio Benitez, was injured, as was his brother, Victor, who is Jonathan’s father. Victor’s two-year-old son survived, but his wife, Fabiola, was still missing on Saturday.
The brothers, immigrants from Mexico, owned a gardening and landscaping business in Montecito. Marilyn was a stay-at-home mom.
‘My sister was such a good person, she only thought of others to the point that she would cry with you when you were hurt or sick,’ Jennifer Ramos said between sobs as she spoke by phone from her home in Mexico.
Her 27-year-old sister called relatives every day in the town of Marquelia, near Acapulco on Mexico’s Pacific coast, Jennifer Ramos said. When a call didn’t come Tuesday she sensed something was wrong.
During her last call home the day before, Marilyn put her daughter on the phone and she happily told her aunt about the toys she received on January 6, The Day of the Magi, a holiday widely celebrated in Latin America.
During a visit home in September, Marilyn Ramos told her family she missed Mexico and hoped to return someday. On Friday, her family spoke with Mexican officials about bringing her body back.
Peter Fleurat was at home with his partner of 17 years during Tuesday’s violent storm when the couple felt the floor beneath them shake and roll.
Moments later, a wall of mud burst through their walls and swept him and Ralph ‘Lalo’ Barajas away.
‘The last thing Peter yelled out to me was, ‘Lalo, grab onto some wood and don’t let go,” Barajas told CBS News. ‘That was the last I heard of him.’
Barajas was rescued, treated for cuts, bruises and a sprained neck and released from a Santa Barbara hospital. He searched for his partner until he got the news that he had died.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, by STEPHANIE HANEY
The mudslide hit the couple’s Hot Springs Road home so hard it was knocked off its foundations, according to another friend.
Friends and family have paid tribute to Fleurat, who studied nursing at Santa Barbara City College and worked as an end-of-life carer.
Juli Miller wrote on Facebook: ‘With a very heavy heart, our kind, creative friend with an unforgettable laugh has left us. Thank you all for sharing and especially to Cynthia for finding the most recent information for us. Hug your loved ones and stay in contact with people you adore. You never know when it will be too late.’
‘He’s a great loss to so many people,’ Seal said. ‘He was just a very unique person. Everyone loved him. He was fun, he was mischievous, he would also always play jokes on you.’
Fleurat grew up in upstate New York and moved to Montecito in the 1970s. There he met Barajas and the couple have been together for the past 20 years. His family are now traveling down from New York for his funeral.
A GoFundMe account has been set up by Barajas’ niece Angelique Barajas to help pay for Fleurat’s funeral and her uncle’s medical expenses.
Dr. Mark Montgomery and Caroline Montgomery
Dr Mark Montgomery and his family returned from a Brazilian vacation only two days before the mudslide that took his and his daughter Caroline’s life came crashing down a hillside into their two-story home.
Montgomery’s wife and oldest daughter had left for a business trip to New York soon after returning home Sunday. He stayed behind with his 22-year-old daughter, Caroline Montgomery, who had just graduated from Barnard College in New York, and his 20-year-old son, Duffy.
The three were asleep before dawn Tuesday when the mudslide slammed into their home. The 54-year-old physician, sleeping downstairs, was swept away.
His daughter, sleeping upstairs, was engulfed in mud and other debris. As Duffy tried to save her she died in his arms, said Dr. Michael Behrman, a longtime family friend. Her brother suffered a broken shoulder blade and other injuries.
Behrman had been staying in the Montgomery family’s home while they vacationed, his own home having burned down during the devastating wildfire that struck the area last month.
‘Having a house burned down and losing all your stuff doesn’t seem like a very big deal now,’ he told The Associated Press on Friday. ‘It’s losing Mark and his daughter and the utter devastation of the area that has gone along with that. ‘I – like everybody here – knew several of the other people who died.’
He was especially close to Montgomery, having recruited his fellow orthopedic surgeon to Santa Barbara more than 20 years ago and having mentored Montgomery during his residency.
‘He made a huge difference in people’s lives,’ Behrman said. ‘He was an absolutely wonderful guy, who had a kind word for everybody, very friendly, compassionate and wonderful with his patients.’
The hand surgeon, a popular figure in the local community, who graduated from Princeton University and Columbia University Medical School, was described as ‘kind and caring’ by his patients. As word of the physician’s death spread, tributes poured onto social media.
‘He fixed my hand after a camping accident in 2012, two weeks before my wedding,’ David Iglesias told the KSBY television station. ‘I cut all the tendons in my fingers. He was able to reattach them. I have full use and feeling in my hand because of Dr. Montgomery.’
James Mitchell and Alice Mitchell
Elderly couple James Mitchell, 89, and Alice Mitchell, 78, had been missing since early on Tuesday and have since been confirmed dead.
The couple had been married for more than 50 years and had just celebrated Jim’s 89th birthday when they were swept away along with their dog Gigi.
Jim, who worked in labor relations, and Alice, a schoolteacher, had moved to Montecito in 1995 after raising their two children in Southern California’s Orange County.
‘They’re an adorable couple, and they were in love with their house,’ their daughter, Kelly Weimer, said Wednesday before learning they had died.
She last spoke to them Monday when she called to wish her father a happy birthday.
The couple had planned to stay at home the night of the storm and have a quiet dinner. Their grandson had taken them out to celebrate the day before.
The Mitchells are survived by their two children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Rebecca Riskin was the picture of success and health before she was killed along with her two dogs.
Her firm, Riskin Partners, credited the former ballerina with having closed more than $2 billion in high-end real estate sales since she founded the company in the early 1990s.
‘She’s leaving a huge void. She was exceptional,’ said Gina Conte, who described the 61-year-old Riskin as her best friend, mentor and confidante.
Conte said Riskin, who was the maid of honor at her wedding, took joy in pairing the perfect home with the perfect family and loved cooking, going for long walks and spending movie nights with her family.
Riskin was swept away after a mudslide tore through her living room, Conte said, adding that her husband survived because he was in bed in a part of the house that stayed intact. Her body was found Wednesday near a highway.
Riskin Partners spokeswoman Erin Lammers said Riskin was a member of the American Ballet Theater in New York before an injury cut short her dancing career.
She returned to her hometown of Los Angeles in 1979, where she began selling high-end real estate on the city’s west side. She moved to Montecito in the early 1990s.
‘It is with heavy hearts we share that our dear friend and partner, Rebecca Riskin, has passed away as a result of the tragic flooding and mudslides in Montecito,’ the company wrote in a statement. ‘The confirmation of her loss is incredibly devastating to her friends, family, and our community.’
‘Rebecca was an exceptional woman, and her legacy will continue to live on and thrive through her children, Robert and Julia, her husband Ken Grand, and her namesake firm, Riskin Partners.’
Colleagues at Riskin Partners described how she’s closed more than $2 billion worth of deals since founding the firm in the 1990s.
‘She’s leaving a huge void. She was exceptional,’ said Conte
Riskin is survived by her husband, two grown children and a grandson.
David Cantin, 49, died after being swept away from his home along with his teenage son. His daughter Lauren was filmed being rescued by firefighters from their home after they heard her screaming from the wreckage.
Friends initially reported that his son Jack, 16, had been found safe and was hospitalized but those reports lost weight on Thursday as relatives continued to search for him.
Daughter, Lauren, 14, became the face of survival when rescuers pulled the mud-covered girl from her flattened home earlier this week
NeoTract, a maker of devices used in the medical field of urology, launched a fundraising page Wednesday, asking for financial support for the family of Cantin’s mother, Kim, a marketing executive.
In two days it more than tripled its goal of $20,000. It took firefighters hours to dig Lauren out of the mud that destroyed her home.
‘I thought I was dead for a minute,’ she told them before an ambulance took her away.
David was vice president of global sales for a leading developer of instruments used by surgeons.
Cantin’s company, NDS Surgical Imaging, developed some of the medical industry’s earliest digital imaging technologies for minimally invasive surgery.
He graduated from Bryant University and obtained a graduate degree from Xavier University, according to his employer’s website.
He was also a Scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts.
Josephine ‘Josie Gower’
Josephine ‘Josie Gower’ who also died in the Montecito mudslides, was celebrated by family as a woman who loved and embraced life for each one of her 69 years.
‘I have never met anyone quite like her and never will again,’ her daughter-in-law Sarah Gower wrote on Facebook after authorities confirmed Gower was one of 18 people killed by mudslides. ‘She was the life of the party, always, and loved us all so fiercely. She lived for her kids and for our kids.’
Gower’s own Facebook page reveals a woman with a playful love of life. One photo shows her dressed as a mermaid by a pool while others show her riding horses and cuddling with her cats.
‘A bundle of fun,’ her daughter-in-law said. ‘She was just simply the most loving, cheerful, beautiful, strong, independent force. We will miss her so.’
A retired nurse, she was confirmed dead by friends on social media on Wednesday after a frantic 24 hour search for her.
A friend said that Gower and another friend had been on the second floor of her home but had gone downstairs after hearing noises. They were both swept away by the mudslide, although the other friend was found clinging to a nearby tree.
Friends revealed that her body was carried ‘several miles’ by the river of mud which rushed through the town.
‘Heartbreaking loss as we learned that she was taken from us by the muddy floodwaters and swept downhill for several miles,’ one said. She is believed to have died along with her dog.
‘She was very gregarious, very unique. In so many ways she was so beautiful,’ added Diane Brewer, who knew Gower for decades. ‘Everyone loves her. She truly was one of a kind.
‘And she would always stop to give cookies or other treats to people at the YMCA,’ she said.
She is survived by two adult children and three grandchildren.
Friends and family remembered John McManigal as a dedicated family man who died trying to help one of his six children flee the pre-dawn mudslide enveloping their home.
Awakened by a last-second warning Tuesday that disaster was approaching, McManigal, 61, roused his 23-year-old son, Connor, and the pair tried to flee. He was killed. His son, carried a mile by the mud, survived.
Connor’s worried brother, Tyler McManigal, 28, who is stationed at a military base in Hawaii, read about the mudslides and shared his concerns for his father on Wednesday.
‘Connor, is recovering from serious injuries in the hospital,’ a friend said in a statement posted on a GoFundMe account which has been set up to raise money for the grieving family.
The posting described McManigal as ‘an amazing man, father of six, and a loving husband.’
His community activities included serving as a host father for the Santa Barbara Foresters baseball club, for which Connor played.
‘Like the rest of our larger Santa Barbara community, we are crushed by this tragedy,’ the club said in a statement. ‘We send love, prayers, and strength to the affected families and their loved ones.’
Martin Cabrera-Munoz, 48, was confirmed dead by younger brother Joel who said Martin was killed when the floods hit East Valley Road. The family have launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for his funeral services.
One of the oldest victims was Roy Rohter, revered founder of a private Catholic school in nearby Ventura.
The 84-year-old former real estate broker had fled his Montecito home just last month when it came under threat from the wildfire. He died at that home, authorities confirmed Thursday.
‘Roy believed intensely in the power of a Catholic education,’ St. Augustine Academy Headmaster Michael Van Hecke, said this week. ‘He’s been a deep supporter of the school in every way and a mentor to me personally, to the faculty and to the kids.’
Officials of the K-12 school Rohter founded in 1994 said his wife was injured in the mudslide but survived.
‘Pray also for his wife, Theresa, the gentle giant of charity and grace, and for his children and grandchildren,’ the school said in a statement.
Rohter, a former real estate broker, was the first victim to be confirmed dead in the disaster.
Sawyer Corey and Morgan Corey
Sisters Sawyer Corey, 12, and Morgan Christine Corey, 25, were sleeping when the mud smashed into their home.
Sawyer was found dead earlier in the week. The body of her sitser, Morgan, was found Saturday morning in mud and debris and was counted as the 19th victim of the tragedy.
‘We ask that you keep this devastated family in your thoughts and prayers,’ Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said.
Sawyer’s twin sister, Summer, and their mother, Carie Baker, were injured and were being treated at a hospital, relatives reported.
Jonathan Benitez, nine, was swept from his home along with his mother, Fabiola, who is missing. The child’s father and brother survived and were hospitalized.
On Thursday, a resident in Montecito who is friends with the family confirmed to DailyMail.com that Jonathan’s body had been found.
Peerawat Sutthithepa and Richard Taylor
Also named among the dead were Peerawat Sutthithepa, 6, and Richard Taylor, 67.
Peerawat fled his home with his family during December’s fires taking shelter at a Red Cross evacuation center.
The family was able to stay safe during that terrifying week but were unable to escape the mudslides that followed.
Peerawat was known as Pasta. His father and two-year-old sister are still missing.
Richard Taylor, Sutthithepa’s 79-year-old stepfather, was also killed.
The family’s house was destroyed by mud, boulders, debris and rushing water, said Mike Caldwell, general manager of Toyota of Santa Barbara, where Sutthithepa was an employee, in a GoFundMe page to raise funds for the family. ‘Literally nothing is left.’
A number of other people are also still missing. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office made a plea for information on any of the missing residents, while acknowledging that finding anyone alive would be a ‘miracle’.
‘The missing persons were reported by family and friends, and resided in areas that were heavily damaged during the storm and subsequent mudslides,’ the sheriff’s office said.
The sheriff’s office listed the names of the missing, who range in age from two to 62, in a statement on Friday night.
Other missing persons who resided in areas heavily damaged during the storm and subsequent mudslides are John ‘Jack’ Cantin, 17; Faviola Benitez Calderon, 28; Pinit Sutthithepa, 30, and two-year-old Lydia Sutthithepa.
MONTECITO BLACKOUT! MUDSLIDE-RAVAGED TOWN HAS ITS GAS AND POWER SWITCHED OFF TO ENABLE REPAIRS AS RESIDENTS GET INCREASINGLY FRUSTRATED THEY CANNOT RETURN TO THEIR HOMES
Frustrations and dark discoveries are mounting for a California town ravaged by a deadly and destructive mudslide.
Most of the people of Montecito, a town usually known for its serenity and luxury, were under orders to stay out of town as gas and power were expected to be shut off Saturday for repairs.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown on Thursday expanded what was known as the public safety exclusion zone to incorporate most of the town.
It meant that even those who had stayed behind would have to leave and those who entered the zone would be subject to arrest.
‘It is a little frustrating,’ said Sarah Ettman, whose home was undamaged and whose section of town still had gas and electricity. ‘It’s martial law here, basically.’
However, with most utilities about to be cut off and sewage running into the nearby creek, she decided to heed the order to leave.
‘I mean you’re losing all your basic health and sanitation services,’ she said. ‘When those go down, you have to leave.’
It was another difficult turn for those living in the Southern California town that has been subject to repeated evacuation orders in recent weeks, first because of a monster wildfire last month, then because of downpours and mudslides.
Cia Monroe said her family was lucky their home wasn’t ruined and they were all healthy and safe, though her daughter lost one of her best friends.
But Monroe said it was stressful after evacuating three times during the wildfire to be packing up a fourth time. A family had offered them a room to stay overnight, but then they were looking at spending up to $3,000 a week for a hotel.
‘Where do you go when you’re a family of four and you don’t have a second house?’ Monroe asked, noting that some residents of town have third and fourth homes. ‘Financially that’s a burden.’
While Montecito is best known as a getaway for the rich and famous – the median home price among current listings is more than $4 million – there are also working families living in modest houses and apartments.
More than 1,200 workers taking part in the search and cleanup effort flooded into the town with a population of about 9,000.
A backhoe scooped up mud and rocks around buckled and flattened homes, while bulldozers cleared roads of tangled trees, muck and boulders. Tanker trucks were being used to haul off floodwaters sucked up from U.S. Highway 101, the crippled coastal route connecting Santa Barbara to Ventura.
Brown said the recovery effort has been hindered by residents who had stayed behind or tried to check on damage in neighborhoods where homes were leveled and car-size boulders blocked roads and littered properties.
Rescuers were busy probing thick muck, swollen creeks and tangled trees with poles in search of seven missing people while dogs sniffed for bodies.
A 20th victim was found dead on Sunday, officials from Cal Fire said. That individual has not yet been identified.
Morgan Corey, 25, was found dead Saturday and identified as the 19th victim. Her sister, Sawyer Corey, 12, had previously been discovered dead.
A crew found the body of the 18th victim, Joseph Bleckel, 87, before noon in his home near Romero Canyon, Brown said. It was the first death discovered since Wednesday.
The cause of Bleckel’s death wasn’t announced, but all other victims died from multiple traumatic injuries due to a flash flood and mudslides.
Those still missing include Fabiola Benitez, the mother of Jonathan Benitez, a 10-year-old killed in the flooding.
Benitez lived with her sister-in-law, Marilyn Ramos, 27, who was asleep with her daughter, Kaelly, 3, when mud crashed through their Montecito rental home, carrying both to their deaths.
‘My sister was such a good person, she only thought of others to the point that she would cry with you when you were hurt or sick,’ said Ramos’ sister, Jennifer Ramos, pausing to sob for several seconds.
The husbands of both women and the 2-year-old son of Fabiola Benitez, were hospitalized with injuries, Ramos said.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, by STEPHANIE HANEY