Rescuers picking through waist-deep mud on Thursday, two days after a massive mudslide killed at least 17 people along Southern California's coast, said they feared more bodies may be found but still held out hope for "miracle" survivors.
The fire erupted December 4 in Ventura County, destroying hundreds of homes before it spread into Santa Barbara County and threatened more communities including Montecito. Those killed ranged in age from 3 to 89, and all lived in Santa Barbara County, northwest of Los Angeles, authorities said.
"In disaster circumstances, there have been many miraculous stories of people lasting many days".
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown tried to explain the figures on Thursday, saying there are some disappearances actively being investigated as missing persons by detectives.
Among the searchers were more than a dozen firefighters who climbed through rubble in the backyard of a mansion that had been torn apart.
Between 12 and 24 people who were believed to in the area at the time of the slides remained unaccounted for, said Chris Elms, a spokesman for state firefighters.
"And there are families missing, there are people who are missing family members.it's catastrophic".
"He said so many times that after his passing, 'Make sure everyone prays for my soul.' We will, Roy!"
The immediate areas where people were killed are under mandatory evacuation, and officials increased the size of the evacuation zone Thursday.
Others, Brown said, may simply have been unreachable to the relative, friend or acquaintance who called authorities to report them missing.
"This entire area is a very active rescue and recovery and fix zone right now", he said.
First responders search for 8 still missing after California mudslides
Conte said the 61-year-old, who was the maid of honor at her wedding, took joy in pairing the flawless home with the ideal family and loved cooking, going for long walks and spending movie nights with her family.
Billy Grokenberger lives in a part of Montecito that was under a voluntary evacuation order.
"I think I'd like to stay out of their way", she said.
On the morning of the storm, Grokenberger watched as 2 to 3 feet of water streamed down the street.
"We have a yard to redo and hopefully our insurance will help out with that, but the people across from me, newer homes, gone", said Garrett Speirs, a 54-year-old artist who has been living in Montecito for 20 years.
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. "We've got all those chickens, which means we've got eggs, and they're flawless".
The mudslides and floodwaters have most affected areas in close proximity to wildfires that raged recently in Southern California, including the Thomas Fire, which has burned 281,893 acres to date. The house was flattened hours earlier by the deadly storm-triggered mudslide that ravaged the Montecito area.
The mudslide, touched off by heavy rain, took many homeowners by surprise early 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.
Montecito may be at slightly less risk now, because this week's flooding already brought down vulnerable material. They came away shaken after seeing pictures of the flooded Highway 101 and the devastation to downtown Montecito, where they had a veterinary clinic for many years. Long term, one option would be more basins to slow down storm runoff and collect debris.
Officials said heavy rain was expected but the downpour was much worse than anticipated.
The cause of death for most of the victims will be listed as multiple traumatic injuries resulting from flash floods with mudslides, the Santa Barbara Sheriff's office said Thursday.