As rescuers closed out their fourth day of operations on Friday, the death toll for victims of the tragic mudslides in Southern California rose to 18.
According to NPR, emergency workers found the body of 87-year-old Joseph Bleckel in his house. The Santa Barbara sheriff’s office made the grim discovery at around noon, as searchers continued looking through damaged and destroyed homes for missing people.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Bleckel had been on the missing list. According to NPR, there are at least 7 people, including a 2-year-old, still missing.
The damage done to Montecito by the deadly mudslides have rocked the normally serene town, known for its luxury. Now, residents have been ordered to stay away as gas and power delivery systems are shut off to allow Saturday repairs.
The Associated Press reports that a public safety exclusion zone has incorporated most of the town, even undamaged areas. Those who stayed behind were told to leave, and anyone that entered the zone would be subject to arrest. Residents in the area say most utilities were going to be cut off, while sewage is reported to be running into a nearby creek.
From the AP:
It was another difficult turn for those living in the Southern California town that has been subject to repeated evacuation orders in recent weeks, first because of a monster wildfire last month, then because of downpours and mudslides.
Cia Monroe said her family was lucky their home wasn’t ruined and they were all healthy and safe, though her daughter lost one of her best friends.
But Monroe said it was stressful after evacuating three times during the wildfire to be packing up a fourth time. A family had offered them a room to stay overnight, but then they were looking at spending up to $3,000 a week for a hotel.
“Where do you go when you’re a family of four and you don’t have a second house?” Monroe asked, noting that some residents of town have third and fourth homes. “Financially that’s a burden.”
While Montecito is best known as a getaway for the rich and famous — the median home price among current listings is more than $4 million — there are also working families living in modest houses and apartments.
More than 1,200 workers taking part in the search and cleanup effort flooded into the town with a population of about 9,000.
Some neighborhoods were severely damaged, with leveled homes and car-size boulders scattered across roads and properties. Cleanup efforts include removing mud and rocks from around buckled and flattened homes, clearing roads of heavy debris and hauling off floodwaters.
Sheriff Brown said recovery efforts are hindered by residents who stayed behind or tried to check on damage. Rescuers are busy “probing thick muck, swollen creeks and tangled trees with poles in search of seven missing people while dogs sniffed for bodies,” the AP reports.
— AP West Region (@APWestRegion) January 12, 2018
— CNN (@CNN) January 12, 2018