Death toll from Montecito mudslide rises to 18


The number of people killed in the Montecito mudslides increased to 18 Friday as rescuers continued searching for seven missing people.

Authorities said late Thursday that roughly 43 people were unaccounted for after heavy rains pounded the Thomas fire burn scar this week and unleashed a torrent of mud, boulders and debris that destroyed scores of homes. The number of missing had grown, officials said, after authorities combed through social media posts and message boards at evacuation shelters.

Many of those people since have been reported safe, according to Chris Elms, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, but the number of people missing remains fluid.


“We’re starting to get to the phase where people are actually calling in and saying, ‘If you’re looking for me, I’m OK,’ ” Elms said.

Rescue efforts continued Friday in the ravaged community. Elms said emergency crews are still trying to fight their way through roadways made inaccessible by mudflow in the hopes of locating more people. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Thursday that officials were expanding mandatory evacuation zones because pedestrians and traffic are hindering rescue and repair operations.

Rescue teams tried to sound an optimistic note — hoping for the best, bracing for the worst — as they used an arsenal of tools, technology and specially trained dogs to probe debris piles more than 15 feet deep at the southern end of Romero Creek in the heart of the upscale community for signs of human remains — and survivors.

“It’s as exhausting, frustrating and tedious as looking for a needle in a haystack,” Battalion Chief Mark Akahoshi, said, while hunched over a topographical map of surrounding terrain studded with ranches and mansions offering panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.

“There is still a large area to be searched,” he said. “The mud and the debris is hindering progress. It’s just slow going out there. It continues as a search and rescue mission.”

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office on Friday released an updated list of the names of the 18 dead, all of whom were Montecito residents. They ranged in age from 3 to 89 years old.


The dead were identified as:

  • Jonathan Benitez, 10
  • Kailly Benitez, 3
  • Joseph Francis Bleckel, 87
  • Martin Cabrera-Munoz, 48
  • David Cantin, 49
  • Sawyer Corey, 12
  • Peter Fleurat, 73
  • Josephine Gower, 69
  • John McManigal, 61
  • Alice Mitchell, 78
  • James Mitchell, 89
  • Mark Montgomery, 54
  • Caroline Montgomery, 22
  • Marilyn Ramos, 27
  • Rebecca Riskin, 61
  • Roy Rohter, 84
  • Peerawat Sutthithepa, 6
  • Richard Loring Taylor, 79

The county coroner has listed the cause of death for each victim as “multiple traumatic injuries due to flash flood with mudslides due to recent wildfire.” The Thomas fire, which set the stage for this week’s devastation, was declared 100% contained Friday morning, officials said.
The fire burned for more than a month, though its spread was contained several weeks ago. In the end, the blaze burned 281,893 acres.

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10 p.m. This article was updated with new information from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.

4:30 p.m. The article was updated with a revised death toll and other details.

10:45 a.m.: This article was updated with additional details about the Thomas fire.

This article was originally published at 8:25 a.m.