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2-year-old girl among those still missing in Montecito mudslides; 20 confirmed dead

At least three people remain missing Monday as the grim effort to find bodies under tons of mud and debris continued in Montecito.

The death toll now stands at 20, nearly a week after the most destructive mudslide in California in decades.

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On Sunday, searchers had found the body of the latest victim: 30-year-old Pinit Sutthithepa, whose 6-year-old son, Peerawat, was also killed. Sutthithepa’s 2-year-old daughter, Lydia, is missing.

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.

Authorities said Sunday that they had transitioned from search and rescue to search and recovery. For days, they had scoured the devastation for signs of life, but hope of finding more survivors dwindled.

“This decision was not made lightly,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told reporters Sunday afternoon.

Meanwhile, crews continued clear a two-mile stretch of mud- and debris-strewn U.S. Highway 101, which remains closed, but is likely to reopen next week, authorities said on Monday.

Officials initially had expected to be ready to reopen the highway — a major north-south artery that carries about 100,000 vehicles through the Central Coast each day — on Monday.

By Sunday afternoon, Caltrans crews had removed 150 yards of debris from northbound lanes and 80 yards of debris from southbound lanes, Caltrans spokesman Jim Shivers said.

But officials said cleaning up one part of the freeway at Olive Mill Road was proving especially difficult because, as one of the lowest points in the area, it had served a magnet for water and mud.

About 75 people are assigned to the project, which is focused on what Caltrans calls “dewatering” — using pumps to suck up the mud and rainwater. Once all the mud and debris are removed, the pavement and overpasses will need to be evaluated for structural safety. Then lines will need to be repainted and signs and guardrails reinstalled.

State Route 192, which cuts across the foothills, is also unsafe in places, and officials are trying to establish an alternate route as quickly as possible.

At least 296 buildings were damaged or destroyed by last week’s mudslides, officials said Sunday after a partial, preliminary inspection. In that count were 73 homes that were destroyed and 61 that sustained major damage.

Those numbers are expected to rise, since inspectors have completed about 35% of assessments of residential and commercial buildings.

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