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Five still missing after deadly mudslides sweep through California community

The number of people missing since debris-laden flash floods and mudslides smashed through the community of Montecito in southern California is now five, authorities have said, down from as many as 43 on Thursday.

Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Amber Anderson said the number had dropped because many people were located, but it could continue to fluctuate.

She said some missing-person reports are rapidly cleared while others take a long time to resolve.

The number of confirmed deaths remains at 17.

Ms Anderson said the number of personnel searching ravaged neighbourhoods has doubled over the past day to 1,250.

The oldest victim was Jim Mitchell, who had celebrated his 89th birthday the day before. He died with his wife of more than 50 years, Alice.

The youngest, three-year-old Kailly Benitez, was one of four children killed.

As their names and those of 14 other victims were released, crews kept digging through the muck and rubble looking for more people.

"At this moment, we are still looking for live victims," Santa Barbara fire Captain Gary Pitney said, but he confessed: "The likelihood is increasing that we'll be finding bodies, not survivors. You have to start accepting the reality of that."

The other children killed were six-year-old Peerawat Sutthithepn, 10-year-old Jonathan Benitez and 12-year-old Sawyer Corey. None of the adult dead shared their last names.

All of the dead were killed by "multiple traumatic injuries due to flash flood with mudslides", authorities said.

The disaster, touched off by heavy rain, took many homeowners by surprise early on Tuesday, despite warnings issued days in advance that mudslides were possible because recent wildfires had stripped hillsides of vegetation that normally holds soil in place.

As the rainwater made its way downhill with gathering force, it pried boulders from the ground and picked up trees and other debris that flattened homes, cars and carried at least one body a mile away.

From an aerial view, the community that is home for celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Jeff Bridges looked like two vastly different places.

Trashed areas were awash in a sea of mud, with only the tallest trees standing and some homes buried up to their roofs.

Next to some of the devastated areas sat large estates untouched by the torrent, their lawns still green and the landscaping lush.

After a better look at the damage, officials lowered the number of destroyed homes from 100 to 64 and raised the number of damaged ones from 300 to 446.


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