Rescuers pulled the bodies of a mother and her three children out of the mud in La Conchita, raising the death toll to 10, as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger toured the devastated hamlet in Ventura County.
Just before dawn, emergency crews pulled the bodies of the Wallet family from the mudslide that ripped through the town Monday afternoon. Even with the latest discovery, fire officials said about a dozen people were believed to still be buried under the tons of dirt and vegetation.
The latest victims were identified as Michelle Wallet, 36, and her daughters, Hanna, 10, Raven, 6, and Paloma, 2. Jimmy Wallet, the father, said that he left the house to buy ice cream when the landslide occurred.
The governor arrived in the morning to survey the damage. He met with Fire Chief Bob Roper and was scheduled to meet with some of the survivors, fire officials said.
Rescue efforts continued through the chilly Tuesday night and the sunny early hours today. Officials worked to keep spirits up, telling clusters of surviving residents that there was still hope their loved ones would be found alive.
"There's always hope," Ventura County Fire Capt. Conrad Quintana said Tuesday. "For the next 24 to 48 hours we are going to be here to find survivors. That's the tactic we're following."
But as hours went by without any indications of life from homes crushed by mud, with only the harsh sounds of chain saws and excavators filling the air, the mood turned somber. As bodies were discovered, fresh waves of grief washed over the town.
Rescue crews in La Conchita used tools as delicate as a microphone and as brawny as a backhoe to probe for survivors in the debris field that was once a vibrant portion of the hamlet between Ventura and Santa Barbara. State prison inmates in orange overalls manned a bucket brigade, while rescue dogs sniffed for signs of life -- and specially trained cadaver dogs for signs of death.
Although most of the community was cordoned off by sheriff's deputies, some residents had been allowed to spend Monday night in their homes, and some joined in the search operation.
One of those working through the rubble was Jimmy Wallet, a construction worker and musician. On Tuesday, Wallet was briefly chased and detained by California Highway Patrol officers when he crossed a barricade. But they let him go after determining who he was.
B. Talaugon-Dunn, who has lived in La Conchita with her husband, Jerry Dunn, for 23 years, considered her losses as she cooked soup on a gas grill near her home, which was just beyond the pile of destruction.
"I lost a good surfing friend -- Tony Alvis. But," she added quickly, "that's not confirmed." She expressed worry about another friend, Charlie Womack.
"Tony's dead," her husband said, putting his arm around her. "Charlie's dead."
County officials later confirmed the deaths of Michael Anthony Alvis, 53, and Charles Womack, 51. They also released the name of John Murray Morgan, 56.
In one of the most wrenching moments of the day, rescue workers found a pool of blood in a crevice of wreckage that led dogs to the body of a young girl. Rescuers removed the body, wrapped it in a white quilted blanket and placed it gently on the ground. Six residents -- it was not clear if they were related to the girl -- surrounded the body, dropped to their hands and knees and touched their foreheads to the quilt.
The landslide struck shortly after 1 p.m. Monday, as a fourth day of steady rain unmoored a huge section of the hillside that rises steeply behind the town, which is wedged between the hill and Highway 101, with the ocean just beyond. It was the second time in a decade that a major landslide had flattened portions of La Conchita, but Monday's slide was far worse than the last one in 1995.
Rescue crews arrived to find homes engulfed not only in mud but, in some cases, each other. So powerful was the landslide that it shoved some houses onto others as if they were so many cardboard boxes.
Authorities said 13 homes were destroyed and 19 red-tagged, meaning inspectors deemed them too dangerous to enter. Ten people were pulled alive from the rubble, two of them critically hurt.
Looking east from the police cordon in the center of La Conchita, the view now draws the eye to the carved-out wedge of hillside that looks like a crooked heart of mud. Below is the splayed-out result of the slide: dirt and debris and yellow-suited rescue workers digging into the rubble. Someone's deck juts out in one spot; elsewhere, an American flag protrudes from the wreckage.
Times staff writers Richard Fausset, Mitchell Landsberg and Fred Alvarez contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times