Death Toll in Montecito Mudslide Hits 20; Highway 101 Still Closed

Highway 101 (Justin Sullivan / Getty)
Justin Sullivan / Getty
JOEL B. POLLAK

California’s Highway 101, a key north-south thoroughfare, remains closed in the coastal city of Montecito due to last Tuesday’s deadly mudslide, which has left the road filled with mud, water, and debris.

Meanwhile, the death toll rose Saturday to 19, as the body of 25-year-old Morgan Corey was recovered in debris.

Update: KTLA reports that the death toll rose to 20 on Sunday morning with the recovery of the body of 30-year-old Pinit Sutthithepa. Four people are still missing.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

U.S. Highway 101, a major north-south artery that carries 100,000 vehicles through the Central Coast each day, was initially expected to open Monday, but officials said cleaning up one part of the freeway was proving more difficult than imagined.

“It’s really an overwhelming situation and we don’t want to give an estimate that isn’t accurate,” said Colin Jones, a spokesman for the California Department of Transportation.

Caltrans crews, aided by private contractors and the Army Corps of Engineers, have been working around the clock on an approximately two-mile stretch of the debris-strewn freeway near Montecito. Crews have removed most of the vehicles abandoned in the storm, including a number of tractor-trailers, but a significant amount of debris and mud remains.

It is not clear when Highway 101 will re-open. Transportation services in the area were already thin, thanks to December’s Thomas fire, the largest in the state’s history, which shut down Amtrak rail service to the region.

The fire also set the stage for the mudslide by removing vegetation that had held soil in place. Officials warned residents to evacuate ahead of the winter’s first heavy rains last week, but the evacuation order was not mandatory in the area affected by the mudslide.

The Santa Barbara News-Press noted that five people are still listed as missing.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named to Forward’s 50 “most influential” Jews in 2017. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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