California Mudslide Victims ID’d as Crews Continue Survivor Search

The oldest victim swept away in a California mudslide 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, 3-year-old Kailly Benitez, was one of four children killed.

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

The number of reported deaths from the mudslide has reached 17.

“At this moment, we are still looking for live victims,” Santa Barbara fire Capt. 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.”

Mapping the Post-Wildfire Landslide Risk in California’s Burn Zones

California’s rainy season last year may have replenished reservoirs in most parts of the state after a long, crippling drought, but the precipitation largely bypassed an area northwest of Los Angeles, in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Santa Barbara is now in its seventh year of drought and there are worries that similar conditions will return elsewhere in the Golden State.

Under these difficult circumstances, incoming rain—like the heavy precipitation that’s expected this week in parts of Southern California—would be welcomed as good news. But that’s not necessarily the case in the areas impacted by recent wildfires, including Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, where upwards of 4 inches of rains is predicted through Tuesday evening in some spots.

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