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Rescue efforts continue in Montecito as community reels from deadly mudslide

Brittny Mejia, Matt Hamilton and James Queally, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

In some cases, the deluge seemed to split families as well as homes.

Fabiola Benitez, 28, was swept away along with her husband and two children when her house was leveled during Tuesday's deluge, according to Lori Lieberman, a family friend. Benitez's husband and older son were rescued and hospitalized in stable condition, according to Lieberman, who said Benitez and her 9-year-old son remain missing and are feared dead.

Roy Rohter, the founder of St. Augustine Academy in Ventura, was swept from his home alongside his wife on Tuesday morning, school officials said. Rohter did not survive, but his wife was rescued and said to be in stable condition, the college said in a statement earlier this week.

Rebecca Riskin, a Montecito real estate agent, also was identified as one of those killed, according to a statement issued by her firm. She is survived by her husband and two children, the statement said.

The surge destroyed or damaged hundreds of buildings in Montecito and washed out a 30-mile stretch of the 101 Freeway. The roadway will remain closed until at least Monday from Highway 150 to Milpas Street in Santa Barbara as crews work around the clock to clear the area of mud, cars and other debris. On the stretch of the freeway by the Montecito Inn, several feet of mud and rubble collected in the road.

"It looks like a swamp -- there's so much stuff down there," said Jose Gonzalez, a road crew worker stationed by a bridge over the 101. "Some of the locals think there's probably bodies in there. I hope not."

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Nearly 60 single-family residences were destroyed in Montecito, and 446 others sustained damage, according to an update published Wednesday night by the multi-agency team responding to the devastation. An additional 1,500 homes remain threatened.

The debris field also cut off gas, electricity and water to much of the area. A boil water notice remains in effect for the Montecito Water District, officials said, and rescue personnel are concerned that those who survived the slide but remain trapped soon could run dangerously low on supplies.

"A majority of Montecito and that whole area is in the Stone Age right now," Eliason said Wednesday. "We're actively pursuing trying to get in there as quick as we can to get those people to safety."

Despite the devastation, some of Wednesday's searches resulted in happy endings.

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