Little hope of finding mudslide survivors


January 12, 2018
In this photo provided by Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Kerry Mann (far right) navigates the large boulders and mudflow that destroyed her friend's home in Montecito, California. The woman who lives in there has not been seen since the early hours of Tuesday. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

MONTECITO, California (AP):

Days after mudslides ravaged the coastal town of Montecito, California, the search for the missing became an increasingly desperate exercise on Thursday.

There are growing doubts about whether anyone would be found alive. Seventeen people were confirmed dead and eight others were unaccounted for.

"They're not going to find survivors anymore. They're going to find bodies in the mud," said David Weinert, who feared two of his neighbours were among the dead.

He turned out to be right in at least one case.

The air smelled of sewage and ash as more than a dozen firefighters climbed through rubble in the backyard of a mansion that had been ripped in half.


Some rescuers used poles to probe the muck for bodies, while others waded chest-deep in the mire. Two search dogs swam around, trying to pick up any scent.

"At this moment we are still looking for live victims," said Santa Barbara fire captain Gary Pitney.

But he confessed: "The likelihood is increasing that we'll be finding bodies, not survivors. You have to start accepting the reality of that."

Crews marked places where bodies were found, often far away from a home, and used that information to guess where other victims might have ended up as the surging mud carried or buried them.

The disaster, touched off by heavy rain, took many homeowners by surprise early Tuesday, despite evacuation orders and warnings issued days in advance that mudslides were possible because recent wildfires in the hills had stripped away vegetation that normally holds soil in place.

As the rainwater made its way downhill with gathering force, it pried boulders from the ground and picked up trees and other debris that flattened homes and cars.