Story highlights

  • Number of missing is now five, down from earlier estimate of 43
  • Rescuers plan to search several areas again Friday

(CNN)The grueling search efforts following mudslides in Southern California will enter a fourth day Friday, with authorities scouring piles of debris again as the window to find survivors narrows.

Rescuers plan to search several areas for a second time, hoping to find victims in structures previously examined in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s mudslides.
    The number of missing remains in flux, with authorities saying Friday it was five people, down from an estimate of 43 the day before.
    Emergency workers on the ground have doubled since Thursday, with about 1,250 trying to find and rescue those still trapped, Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Amber Anderson said.
    The mudslides killed at least 17 people and destroyed dozens of homes. Those killed ranged in age from 3 to 89, and all lived in Santa Barbara County, northwest of Los Angeles, authorities said.
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    Rescuers have searched frantically for the missing after rivers of mud and boulders floodedthrough neighborhoods in and nearMontecito, an affluent seaside community east of Santa Barbara, demolishing homes and leaving roads impassable.
    “In disaster circumstances, there have been many miraculous stories of people lasting many days. We certainly are searching for a miracle right now,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Thursday.
    “But realistically we suspect that we are going to continue to have discovery of people who were killed in this incident.”

    Evacuation zone increased

    The immediate areas where people were killed are under mandatory evacuation, and officials increased the size of the evacuation zone Thursday.
    “We know that this a terribly inconvenient development, but it is also incredibly necessary,” Brown said.
    “This entire area is a very active rescue and recovery and repair zone right now,” he said.
    An aerial view of Montecito, California, shows mudflow and debris on Wednesday, January 10. Heavy rains unleashed deadly mudslides Tuesday that damaged or swept away dozens of homes in Southern California.

    An aerial view of Montecito, California, shows mudflow and debris on Wednesday, January 10. Heavy rains unleashed deadly mudslides Tuesday that damaged or swept away dozens of homes in Southern California.
    Photos:Deadly mudslides in Southern California
    An aerial view of Montecito, California, shows mudflow and debris on Wednesday, January 10. Heavy rains unleashed deadly mudslides Tuesday that damaged or swept away dozens of homes in Southern California.
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    A damaged home is seen in Montecito on January 10.

    A damaged home is seen in Montecito on January 10.
    Photos:Deadly mudslides in Southern California
    A damaged home is seen in Montecito on January 10.
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    Part of a structure sits in a tree after being knocked off its foundation by a Montecito mudslide on January 10.

    Part of a structure sits in a tree after being knocked off its foundation by a Montecito mudslide on January 10.
    Photos:Deadly mudslides in Southern California
    Part of a structure sits in a tree after being knocked off its foundation by a Montecito mudslide on January 10.
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    Emergency personnel carry a woman from a collapsed house after a mudslide in Montecito on Tuesday, January 9.

    Emergency personnel carry a woman from a collapsed house after a mudslide in Montecito on Tuesday, January 9.
    Photos:Deadly mudslides in Southern California
    Emergency personnel carry a woman from a collapsed house after a mudslide in Montecito on Tuesday, January 9.
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    Kerry Mann navigates the large boulders and mudflow that destroyed her friend's home in Montecito.

    Kerry Mann navigates the large boulders and mudflow that destroyed her friend's home in Montecito.
    Photos:Deadly mudslides in Southern California
    Kerry Mann navigates the large boulders and mudflow that destroyed her friend’s home in Montecito.
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    A view of the 101 freeway from Olive Mill Road in Montecito.

    A view of the 101 freeway from Olive Mill Road in Montecito.
    Photos:Deadly mudslides in Southern California
    A view of the 101 freeway from Olive Mill Road in Montecito.
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    Phillip Harnsberger crosses through mud from a flooded creek in Montecito on January 9.

    Phillip Harnsberger crosses through mud from a flooded creek in Montecito on January 9.
    Photos:Deadly mudslides in Southern California
    Phillip Harnsberger crosses through mud from a flooded creek in Montecito on January 9.
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    Mud fills the interior of a destroyed car in Burbank on January 9.

    Mud fills the interior of a destroyed car in Burbank on January 9.
    Photos:Deadly mudslides in Southern California
    Mud fills the interior of a destroyed car in Burbank on January 9.
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    Runoff water from a creek floods Highway 101 in Montecito on January 9. Flooding forced many heavily traveled roads to close.

    Runoff water from a creek floods Highway 101 in Montecito on January 9. Flooding forced many heavily traveled roads to close.
    Photos:Deadly mudslides in Southern California
    Runoff water from a creek floods Highway 101 in Montecito on January 9. Flooding forced many heavily traveled roads to close.
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    Reilly, a search dog with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, looks for victims in Montecito on January 9.

    Reilly, a search dog with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, looks for victims in Montecito on January 9.
    Photos:Deadly mudslides in Southern California
    Reilly, a search dog with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, looks for victims in Montecito on January 9.
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    A firefighter clears debris in Los Angeles on January 9.

    A firefighter clears debris in Los Angeles on January 9.
    Photos:Deadly mudslides in Southern California
    A firefighter clears debris in Los Angeles on January 9.
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    A van is stuck in the mud in the Sun Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles on January 9.

    A van is stuck in the mud in the Sun Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles on January 9.
    Photos:Deadly mudslides in Southern California
    A van is stuck in the mud in the Sun Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles on January 9.
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    A police vehicle drives across a flooded side road in Montecito, near the San Ysidro exit of Highway 101 on January 9.

    A police vehicle drives across a flooded side road in Montecito, near the San Ysidro exit of Highway 101 on January 9.
    Photos:Deadly mudslides in Southern California
    A police vehicle drives across a flooded side road in Montecito, near the San Ysidro exit of Highway 101 on January 9.
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    Mud covers a road in Burbank on January 9.

    Mud covers a road in Burbank on January 9.
    Photos:Deadly mudslides in Southern California
    Mud covers a road in Burbank on January 9.
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    Los Angeles firefighters work amid floodwaters and mud on January 9.

    Los Angeles firefighters work amid floodwaters and mud on January 9.
    Photos:Deadly mudslides in Southern California
    Los Angeles firefighters work amid floodwaters and mud on January 9.
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    A member of the Long Beach search and rescue team looks for survivors in a car in Montecito on January 9.

    A member of the Long Beach search and rescue team looks for survivors in a car in Montecito on January 9.
    Photos:Deadly mudslides in Southern California
    A member of the Long Beach search and rescue team looks for survivors in a car in Montecito on January 9.
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    Mud washes away personal belongings in the Sun Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles on January 9.

    Mud washes away personal belongings in the Sun Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles on January 9.
    Photos:Deadly mudslides in Southern California
    Mud washes away personal belongings in the Sun Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles on January 9.
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    Rushing rainwater fills the Los Angeles River near downtown Los Angeles.

    Rushing rainwater fills the Los Angeles River near downtown Los Angeles.
    Photos:Deadly mudslides in Southern California
    Rushing rainwater fills the Los Angeles River near downtown Los Angeles.
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    32 california mudslide 011025 california mudslide 011024 california mudslide 011034 california mudslide 0109 RESTRICTED 27 california mudslide 0110 RESTRICTED 22 california mudslide 0109 RESTRICTED 21 california mudsliced 010926 california mudslide 010901 CA mudslide 011009 california mudslide32 california mudslide 0109 RESTRICTED08 california mudslide29 california mudslide 010916 california mudslide 02 CA mudslide 011014 california mudslide 13 california mudslide 10 california mudslide
    He said the zone, which includes areas formerly under voluntary evacuation advisories, would be in effect for one week but that residents should plan for two.
    Rescue workers are using helicopters and all-terrain vehicles in a search hampered by blocked roads and downed trees and power lines.
    Billy Grokenberger lives in a part of Montecito that was under a voluntary evacuation order. He and his parents put belongings in three cars in case they decided to leave before the storm. They didn’t.
    “We had thought about leaving, but we had just had the fires,” he said, referring to the recent wildfires that stripped the area of needed vegetation. “… We didn’t take it serious(ly) enough.”
    The damage at the chapel at La Casa de Maria in Montecito.

    The damage at the chapel at La Casa de Maria in Montecito.

    The damage at the chapel at La Casa de Maria in Montecito.
    On the morning of the storm, Grokenberger watched as 2 to 3 feet of water streamed down the street.
    “(In) four minutes the water was through our wall and in our house, almost to the second story,” he said.
    “The house is destroyed, but you know, there’s just so many others who are less fortunate. But we just feel lucky that we were able to get out and (are) alive.”

    Risk of mudslides for years

    The storm hit hard between 3 and 6 a.m. Tuesday. The rain poured down on hillsides charred by recent wildfires, which burned vegetation that otherwise could make the terrain more resistant to mudslides.
    The Thomas Fire — the largest wildfire in California’s recorded history —burned more than 281,000 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties from early December into this month. It wasn’t fully contained until this week.
    Geologists and forecasters warned that intense rain could trigger deadly mudslides from the scorched areas.
    And because of the fire, communities below the scarred terrain could remain at risk of mudslides for years, said Randall Jibson, a research geologist with the US Geological Survey.
    Montecito may be at slightly less risk now, because this week’s flooding already brought downvulnerable material.
    “(But) no storm brings down everything that is susceptible. There’s almost always more” that could come down, Jibson said.
    What can be done? Long term, one option would be more basins to slow down storm runoff and collect debris.
    Short term, making the public ready to evacuate during heavy rains is key, he said.
    Montecito and Carpinteria are especially vulnerable to mudslides because the steep terrain in some places goes from thousands of feet above sea level to sea level in just a few miles, said Tom Fayram, a deputy public works director with Santa Barbara County.

    CNN’s Paul Vercammen, Lindsay Benson, Jason Hanna, Joe Sutton, Dave Alsup, Stella Chan and Sonya Hamasaki contributed to this report.

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