The number of bodies removed from the crusting soup of the Montecito mudslide has now risen to 17, up from 15 earlier today. In response to the increased volumes, the Santa Barbara County Coroner has received assistance from the Los Angeles Coroner’s office. No names of the deceased are being released yet pending family notification and body identification. The latter process began today.
The number of persons still missing is also 17. At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Sheriff Bill Brown said it was merely coincidental that the two numbers happened to be identical and assured those present that those still reported missing were not stockpiled in the county morgue. The number of missing actually dropped on Wednesday, going from 24 at the beginning of the day to 17.
Brown lauded the assistance Santa Barbara first responders were receiving from Ventura, San Luis Obispo, and Los Angeles counties, noting that the National Guard had also chipped in with some heavy-duty all-terrain vehicles capable of navigating even the most viscous of environments. Even while praising the help these new vehicles offered, he acknowledged that some of the terrain was so forbidding that they could not pass.
Cottage Health CEO Ron Werft said the hospital has been forced to take exceptional measures to maintain staffing levels, flying 14 employees in from Ventura and transporting another 38 via boat service provided by Island Packers. Dr. Brett Wilson, medical director for the Cottage Emergency Department, stated Cottage had not received any additional patients as a result of the mudslides. He said 20 patients were checked in and 12 currently remain. Of those, he said four remained in critical condition.
Wilson surged those within earshot to look after those injured and traumatized by their experiences. “Be a listener,” he suggested. “Let them tell their story.” He also cautioned that the road ahead might not be simple or linear. “Keep an eye on them; after they get past the trauma, they may become disconnected.”
For friends and family members still searching for individuals who’ve disappeared in the wake of the mudslide, Suzanne Grimmesey of the county’s Behavioral Wellness department suggested the services of the Family Assistance Center. As well as helping people reconnect with the missing, if possible, the center is offering support to survivors only. The phone number is (833) 688-5551. The Red Cross is providing similar help.
Nick Turner, general manager for the Montecito Water District, painted a grim picture of the district’s water supply for at least the next week, indicating that both water and pressure will be in short supply. The pipeline connecting Lake Cachuma to the Montecito Water District broke in several places and service has been shut off. At this point, there’s no estimate when it will be resumed. The breaks have yet to be located, let alone assessed or repairs initiated. Other water mains have broken as well, most troubling being the one connecting the district’s Jameson Reservoir to district customers. That leaves the district reliant upon its groundwater basin, which is notoriously shallow.
Beyond that, Turner said water quality issues remain a significant concern, though no contamination has been documented yet. Water should be boiled. Free bottled water, he said, would be distributed at the San Ysidro shopping center and the Montecito Fire Station at Sycamore and Cold Spring. “There is no best-case or worst-case scenario,” Turner stated. “We’re still assessing the situation.”
Until mid-Monday — January 15 — Highway 101 will remain shut down and off-limits between Highway 150 for motorists heading north from Ventura and from Milpas Street heading south.