MONTECITO, Calif. -- Rescue crews continued to search for survivors amid the mud and wreckage of Montecito's massive debris field on Thursday, but acknowledged that the window to save lives is rapidly closing.
At least eight people remain unaccounted for following Tuesday's massive mud flow, which killed at least 17 people and obliterated scores of homes.
First responders have searched approximately 75 percent of the debris field left by a torrent of boulders, detritus and muck, according to Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown.
"It is a massive operation that we have underway, still in the search and rescue mode, as mentioned, but as we transition and will transition to a recovery mode, we realize that this is going to be a long and difficult journey for all of us and for our community," he said.
Emergency crews successfully rescued three people Wednesday, using helicopters to reach residents trapped in canyon areas that were rendered inaccessible by mud, downed power lines and fallen trees.
"We continue to work down a list of missing people and their addresses and do a much more focused search of that area," Montecito Fire District Deputy Chief Kevin Taylor said during a news briefing Wednesday.
Much of the focus of Thursday's search will be on areas where rescue crews had yet to reach, said Amber Anderson, a public information officer for the multi-agency response team handling the disaster. Secondary searches also will be conducted in areas that emergency crews were able to access earlier in the week.
Hundreds of people who were trapped but not injured in the slides, such as those stranded in Romero Canyon, were taken to safety on Wednesday, she said.
As of Thursday morning, eight people remained missing, according to Mike Eliason, public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. Anderson could not say whether those eight people were all believed to be in areas rescue crews had yet to reach.
None of the dead has been formally identified, but the names of some of those killed and missing in the mudslides have begun to trickle out.