Missing Man Found Safe After Deadly Southern California Mudslides

Ada Carr and Sean Breslin
Published: January 15, 2018

The number of people missing after deadly mudslides struck Southern California dropped to three Monday after officials announced a missing man had been found. 

Authorities in Montecito say 53-year-old John Keating and his dog, Tiny, were located in Ventura, the Associated Press reports. Keating was not in town during the storm, as officials initially thought. 

After discovering another body Sunday, officials announced the death toll from the devastating mudslides has reached 20.

Montecito residents gathered for a memorial Sunday night to grieve and remember those lost during the devastating mudslides.

"I don't know about you, but I'm scared of Mother Nature right now," Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo said during the vigil.

(MORE: The Science of How This Tragedy Occurred)

And although the scope of the tragedy appears insurmountable for the city, residents say they're committed to rebuilding and resuming normalcy as soon as they can.

"They're exhausted but they find ways to try to live life as normally as they can," Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams told the Associated Press.

President Donald Trump released a statement through the White House Press Secretary Monday morning.

In this Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018 photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Santa Barbara County Firefighter Vince Agapito searches through a Montecito, California, home that was destroyed by deadly mudflow and debris early Tuesday morning following heavy rainfall.
(Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

"The President has been briefed and will continue to monitor the mudslides in California," read the statement. "The President and First Lady extend their deepest sympathies to the families affected, their appreciation for the first responders saving lives, and their prayers for those who remain missing."

According to officials, the mudslides destroyed 65 single-family homes and eight businesses and damaged 462 homes and 20 businesses. That number could change in the coming days, the AP reported.

Meanwhile, crews worked Saturday to clean up the wreckage left behind and to repair power, water and gas lines.

Last week, Santa Barbara County announced a new evacuation order in a press release to help with search and rescue efforts. In the areas under the mandatory evacuation, officials said no residents will be allowed to return to their homes, and the order might be in place for one or two weeks.

After issuing an update on the number of people missing, Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Amber Anderson told the AP that the amount could continue to fluctuate as they investigate all missing-person reports.

(MORE: Victims of the Mudslides Identified)

The wait has many residents on edge as they await any news – good or bad – about friends and loved ones.

"It's just waiting and not knowing, and the more I haven't heard from them – we have to find them," Kelly Weimer, whose elderly parents remain missing, told the AP. Their home was destroyed Tuesday in a mudslide.

At least 28 people were injured and crews performed dozens of rescues. One such rescue was a boy who was found under an overpass Tuesday morning, according to the New York Times.

Those stories of successful rescues are what have kept the groups going, 12 hours a day, trudging through the muck that was riddled with sharp objects and possibly raw sewage.

"That's always our mentality: 'Hey, we're going to find someone alive,'" Deputy Dan Page, chief of the Altadena Mountain Rescue Team of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, told the AP. "You never really know. You never know exactly what the human body is capable of."

'Like a Dam Breaking'

This was the first notable rain event during the region's rainy season, and the first time heavy precipitation fell since a series of large wildfires scorched hundreds of square miles. As the heaviest rain bands centered over Santa Barbara County, officials urged residents to "shelter in place or move to higher ground" instead of attempting to flee any fast-moving mudflows.

"Mud came in an instant, like a dam breaking," Montecito resident Ben Hyatt told CNN. "(It) surrounded the house, 2 to 3 feet."

Residents woke early Tuesday morning and learned they didn't have much time to flee as the torrents of mud began flowing into the streets.

"Everywhere I turned, there was chaos," Montecito resident Shawn Monroe told the Washington Post. "I tried to get out every single way and there was no way out. I feel like I escaped."

(MORE: Before and After Images of the Mudslide Disaster)

Resident Thomas Tige and his family were forced to the roof of their home after opting not to heed a voluntary evacuation advisory issued for their neighborhood, the AP reported. Tige said he was checking the downspouts of his home around 3:30 a.m. when the storm picked up.

"I came around the house and heard a deep rumbling, an ominous sound that I knew was the boulders moving as the mud was rising," he told the AP. Two vehicles that were in his driveway were swept away, while car-sized boulders and building debris flowed into the street.

A 30-mile stretch of U.S. 101 was expected to reopen this week, but officials said the cleanup is still ongoing and the amount of remaining mud and debris on the freeway remains vast.

"It’s really an overwhelming situation and we don’t want to give an estimate that isn’t accurate," Colin Jones, a spokesman for the California Department of Transportation, told the L.A. Times.

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