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Authorities Identify 17 Killed In Mudslides, Ages 3 To 89 Years

A firefighter stands on the roof of a house submerged in mud and rocks Wednesday in Montecito, Calif.
Marcio Jose Sanchez
A firefighter stands on the roof of a house submerged in mud and rocks Wednesday in Montecito, Calif.

Updated at 8:11 p.m. ET

Officials have released the identities of 17 people killed in Tuesday's Santa Barbara, Calif., mudslides, as workers continue search and rescue efforts for victims caught in the deluge that swamped houses, crumpled cars and sent boulders careening through streets.

The Santa Barbara coroner's office said the victims' ages ranged from 3 to 89 and the cause of death for all was "multiple traumatic injuries due to flash flood with mudslides due to recent wildfire."

County sheriff officials said all the fatalities occurred in Montecito, the wealthy enclave where flash floods swept down charred hills recently devastated by wildfires.

The number of missing has fluctuated throughout the day. The Santa Barbara County sheriff now says 43 people are still unaccounted for.

Fears that several feet of mud covering a stretch of the 101 Freeway running through Montecito might contain human remains slowed cleaning efforts Thursday, authorities toldKPCC reporters.

"We still need to find out if there's any remains or any life potential that's left in there," said Los Angeles County Fire Battalion Chief Anthony Buzzerio, who is working on a plan to find and preserve human remains.

Another danger faced by search workers is toxic contamination from broken sewage lines, said Buzzerio.

KPCC reports:

"A crew of 700 were on scene early Thursday helping with search, rescue and cleanup, hailing from a wide range of law enforcement, military and local organizations, including urban search and rescue, swift water rescue, sheriff and police personnel, U.S. Navy and Coast Guard and utility company representatives, according to Amber Anderson with the Santa Barbara Fire Department.

"Crews have worked day and night facing difficult conditions, digging through a thick sludge 15 feet deep or more, as well as downed trees, boulders, loose ground and even buried swimming pools, which can pose a threat to rescuers who can't see what's under their feet."

KCLU's Lance Orozco reports, "Search and rescue efforts on Wednesday led to the rescue of three additional people, as well as the recovery of two bodies. As of Wednesday night, officials say the nearly 500 people involved in search efforts had gone through about 75 percent of the 50-plus homes destroyed, and nearly 450 damaged in their hunt for more survivors."

The intensity of the devastation and the difficulty of traversing rivers of mud and debris have made it a challenge for local officials to get an accurate tally of the damage.

While people remain unaccounted for, the death toll is expected to climb, Danielle Karson reports for NPR.

Officials say the region remains unstable because of flooding, debris flow, downed trees and power lines.

In other updates:

  • There has been extensive damage to the water supply infrastructure, and residents are instructed to boil water before drinking it.
  • The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department on Wednesday declareda Public Safety Zone in Monecito, where most of the missing have been reported. They are asking people to "stay out of the area so that rescuers can do their job."
  • Emergency service agencies have shut off natural gas to most parts of Montecito as they await repairs. It's expected to be several days before restoration.
  • Power outages are affecting over 6,000 homes and businesses, primarily in the Montecito area.
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    Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.