He Celebrated His Birthday, Died in Mudslide the Next Day

4 kids among 17 confirmed dead in Calif. disaster
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 12, 2018 2:56 AM CST
Oldest Mudslide Victim Had Just Turned 89
In this Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018 still image from video, cars and debris that washed to the coast from storms and flooding are shown on a beach in Montecito, Calif.   (AP Photo/Aron Ranen)

The oldest victim swept away in a California mudslide was Jim Mitchell, who had celebrated his 89th birthday the day before. He died in the Santa Barbara County enclave of Montecito 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 AP reports. "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."

The other children killed were 6-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 say. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown says 43 people are listed as missing, but many or most of them may simply have been unreachable to the family and friends who reported they couldn't find them. 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.

(More mudslide stories.)

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