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California

101 Freeway is expected to reopen in a week as search for mudslide victims continues

Debris and mud clogged the road between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria.

As the search continued for more victims of the Montecito mudslides, officials said they hoped to have the 101 Freeway opened by next Monday.

The freeway, a key north-south route in California, was transformed into a muddy, debris-filled river by the deadly mudslides. Officials have spent the last six days trying to remove tons of mud and debris from the roadway.

“We’ve made tremendous progress over the last 48 hours,” Jim Shivers, a spokesman for the California Department of Transportation, said Monday.

The freeway has been closed between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria since Tuesday’s heavy rains and mudslides, which left at least 20 people dead and destroyed dozens of homes.

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Caltrans officials initially said they expected that the 101, which carries 100,000 vehicles through the Central Coast each day, would reopen in a matter of days. But after realizing the scope and difficulty of the cleanup, they said it would remain closed indefinitely.

The work is now focused on a remaining quarter-mile stretch of the freeway around the Olive Mill Road exit, Shivers said.

As one of the lowest points in the city, it has proved to be difficult to clear. Pumps running around the clock have been added as the water began to recede on its own, allowing workers using heavy machinery to remove the tree trunks and other objects the mudslides left in the road, Shivers added.

Once the road is clear, engineers must check the pavement and overpasses for structural safety. Signs and guardrails will have to be reinstalled and lane lines repainted, he said.

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The section of the freeway around the Olive Mill Road exit was redone with concrete slabs about two years ago, Shivers said, leaving Caltrans officials hopeful that it will not have been damaged.

Caltrans crews, aided by private contractors and the Army Corps of Engineers, have been working on what began as an approximately two-mile stretch of the debris-strewn freeway.

Workers faced a daunting task that included removing vehicles abandoned in the storm, including a number of tractor-trailers.

Meanwhile, the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department said Monday that a person listed as missing had been found safe in Ventura.

John “Jack” Keating, 53, had been in Carpinteria, not Montecito, when the mudslides hit, the Sheriff’s Department said.

Three people are listed as missing: John “Jack” Cantin, 17; Faviola Benitez Calderon, 28; and Lydia Sutthithepa, 2.

Santa Barbara County officials planned a community meeting at a local school Tuesday to update residents on the recovery process and discuss planning for the next storm. A recovery and assistance center will open Jan. 17 at Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara, the county announced.

Officials warned residents in some Montecito communities to expect temporary power outages as crews work to repair extensive damage.

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joel.rubin@latimes.com

Twitter: @joelrubin


UPDATES:

6:40 p.m.: This article was updated with information about a community meeting, the opening of a local recovery and assistance center and temporary power outages.

3:15 p.m.: This article was updated with authorities saying a person listed as missing had been found safe in Ventura.

This article was originally published at 1:40 p.m.


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