Rescue workers in La Conchita have confirmed at least six fatalities in the landslide that buried a four-block area of the small town and closed all four lanes of Highway 101.
At least 13 people are still missing underneath the mud and debris. Fourteen people were injured during the landslide, 12 of whom were hospitalized. The population of La Conchita is only 260 people.
There are 22 agencies from Long Beach to Santa Barbara working 24 hours a day in the effort. Rescuers are using listening devices to locate any victims who may still be alive. Officer Renee Ferguson of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Dept. said crews are still working around the clock to find any possible survivors.
“We have several search and rescue crews working around the clock to find people who may be trapped in air pockets,” Ferguson said. “We know that if someone found an air pocket they could survive down there upwards of a week, so we’re still hoping and working hard to find these missing people.”
Ferguson said the landslide destroyed 14 homes and damaged another 16 of the 156 total homes in La Conchita. According to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Dept. Web site, the landslide also damaged a water main, leaving several of the surrounding communities without running water. The Casitas Municipal Water District has estimated that it will be at least two days before the water main is fixed.
Highway 101 remains closed in both directions with standing mud still seven feet deep over the roadway. Although Caltrans and its contractors have been working nonstop since the disaster to clear the mud, it will be several days before the highway reopens because the drainage system must also be cleaned out. Caltrans spokesman Colin Jones said the earliest the highway will be open is Friday, Jan. 14.
“We’re making some progress and the 101 should be open by Friday,” Jones said. “The conditions can always change though.”
Jones said Highway 166, which runs along the San Luis Obispo/Santa Barbara County line, opened today. Caltrans is advising anyone who needs to drive south should take Highway 101 north to Santa Maria, then Highway 166 east to Interstate 5 south.
Highway 154 will remain closed for quite a while, Jones said, because part of the road was washed away.
The forecast for the Santa Barbara area does not call for rain for the remainder of the week. According to the Santa Barbara County flood control district, Carpinteria – the nearest measuring station to La Conchita – has received more than eight inches of rain in this storm alone and over 10 inches in the past month.