- Associated Press - Friday, January 12, 2018

MONTECITO, Calif. (AP) - The Latest on deadly debris flows that devastated Montecito, California (all times local):

7:15 p.m.

Authorities in California say a man they thought they had found after this week’s mudslide is actually still missing.

At a news conference Friday, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown had said 53-year-old John Keating was among the missing. Brown returned to the microphone minutes later to say a call had been received and Keating had been found at a hospital outside the area.

But the sheriff’s office had to walk back that conclusion a few hours later when they learned it was a different John Keating found at the hospital, and the one they were seeking was still missing.

Authorities also added one more name to the missing list, 62-year-old Delbert Weltzin. He brings the total of missing to seven.

The sheriff’s office says Weltzin and the Keating who is still missing are homeless men who frequent the Montecito area.


4:45 p.m.

A man was located just moments after his name was announced as one of the people still missing after the California mudslide.

At a news conference Friday, Sheriff Bill Brown said six people were still missing after the slide, including 53-year-old John Keating.

Before the news conference had ended, Brown returned to the microphone, and with a happy tone said a phone call had just come in about Keating.

“He is in an out-of-area hospital being treated. So our missing list is down to five,” Brown said.


4:15 p.m.

Authorities say an 87-year-old man has become the 18th person to die in a California mudslide.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Joseph Bleckel was found dead in his home by a search-and-rescue team at about 11:30 a.m. Friday. His is the first death announced from the slide since Wednesday.

Brown said Bleckel had been on the sheriff’s missing persons list before he was discovered. No further details were released about his death.

Six people remain on the missing list. Their ages range from 2 to 53.


1:30 p.m.

A Mexican woman says her 27-year-old sister, her 3-year-old niece and the girl’s 10-year-old cousin died when pre-dawn mudslides hit the home they were renting in Montecito.

Jennifer Ramos says Marilyn Ramos shared the home with her husband, Antonio Benitez, and the family of his brother, Victor Benitez.

The Benitez brothers survived. But Victor Benitez lost one of his sons, 10-year-old Jonathan Benitez, and his wife, Fabiola, is missing.

Jennifer Ramos says the Benitez brothers and Victor Benitez’s 2-year-old son is in the hospital with injuries.

The Benitez brothers are gardeners.

Jennifer Ramos says Marilyn Ramos called home daily to her family in her native town of Marquelia near Acapulco on Mexico’s Pacific coast.

She says Marilyn Ramos doted on her only child, Kailly.


12:05 p.m.

The partner of one of the people killed in the California mudslides says the victim had just enough time to shout, “‘grab onto some wood and don’t let go.’” before he was swept to his death.

Authorities announced Thursday that 73-year-old Peter Fleurat was among those who died in Montecito.

He and his partner of 17 years, Ralph “Lalo” Barajas, were swept out of their home before dawn Tuesday by the devastating slide.

Barajas, owner of a Santa Barbara restaurant, survived with cuts and bruises and a sprained neck.


10:50 a.m.

The huge wildfire that led to this week’s devastating debris flows in Montecito, California, is finally 100 percent contained.

The U.S. Forest Service made the announcement Friday after aerial surveys of the 440-square-mile (1,140-square-kilometer) scar left by the so-called Thomas fire.

The fire erupted Dec. 4 in Ventura County, destroying hundreds of homes before it spread into Santa Barbara County and threatened more communities including Montecito.

It continued to smolder before a drenching Pacific storm hit bare hills and mountains this week, unleashing debris-laden flash floods that swept away homes and killed at least 17 people.

The Thomas fire was the largest wildfire in recorded California history.


6:55 a.m.

Southern California authorities say the number of people missing since debris-laden flash floods smashed through the community of Montecito is now five, down from as many as 43 a day earlier.

Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Amber Anderson released the latest number early Friday.

Anderson says the number dropped because people were located, but it could continue to fluctuate greatly.

She says some missing-person reports are rapidly cleared while others take a long time to resolve.

The number of confirmed fatalities remains at 17.

Anderson says the number of personnel searching ravaged neighborhoods has doubled over the past day to 1,250.


11:31 p.m.

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.

Santa Barbara fire Capt. Gary Pitney said the likelihood is increasing that rescue crews will be finding bodies instead of survivors at this point.

The mudslide swept through the coastal community of Montecito on Tuesday morning, catching many of the victims entirely off-guard.

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