MONTECITO (CBSLA/AP) — Anxious family members awaited word on loved ones Wednesday as rescue crews searched for two dozen people missing after mudslides in Southern California destroyed an estimated 100 houses, swept away cars and left at least 17 victims dead.
Authorities confirmed Wednesday 7,000 people remain under mandatory evacuation orders, while 23,000 have voluntarily evacuated their homes.
Hundreds were rescued in the hours after the first large storm of the season brought down hillsides scorched by the Thomas Fire, along with large boulders, trees and other debris that ripped homes from their foundations.
Recovery efforts were underway after a search-and-rescue team arrived from nearby Los Angeles County in addition to help from the Coast Guard and National Guard and law enforcement.
They’ll focus first on finding survivors.
“Right now our assets are focused on determining if anyone is still alive in any of those structures that have been damaged,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said.
The sheriff said “at least several dozen homes that have been either destroyed or severely damaged, and likely many other ones are in areas that are as-yet inaccessible.”
He said it’s likely they’ll find more people amid that destruction.
Many parts of Montecito are without natural gas, power or water. A family assistance center was set up at First Presbyterian Church, 21 E. Constance Ave., in Santa Barbara to help victims find friends or family who may have been affected by the storm. An evacuation center was set up at the Santa Barbara City College Campus Gymnasium.
Most roads into the area remain closed due to the continuing cleanup efforts. Parts of Highway 101 between Ventura and Santa Barbara will remain closed through at least Thursday night.
On the other end of the Thomas Fire burn area, video from Caltrans showed a portion of State Route 33 had completely washed away.
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