The number of fatalities in the La Conchita landslide rose to 10 Wednesday morning after more than 600 rescue workers spent the night searching for victims buried under the mud and debris.
Thus far, the Ventura County medical examiner has identified the bodies of Charles Womack, 51, John Morgan, 56, Michael Alvis, 53, Christina Kennedy, 45, Mechelle Wallet, 37, and Wallet’s daughters Hannah Jade, 10, Raven Violet, 6, and Paloma Jolie, 2.
According to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Dept., three people are known to be missing with up to 20 people unaccounted for, although the number of people believed to be missing has fluctuated in recent days. Nine people have been rescued since Monday’s landslide and residents of La Conchita have been evacuated to the Ventura County Fairgrounds. However, 35 residents refused to evacuate and are still living in their homes near the slide area.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger toured the disaster area from the air Wednesday morning and visited the site. He declared a state of emergency so residents and the county will be eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency funds.
“We have seen the power of nature cause damage and despair, but we will match that power with our own resolve,” Schwarzenegger said.
Thirty-fifth District assembly member Pedro Nava met with Schwarzenegger at the site of the mudslide to meet with survivors and offer support.
“I’m impressed with the optimism and determination of the people who live there who are just trying to put their lives back together,” Nava said. “I’m also impressed with the courage and heroic efforts of the emergency personnel.”
Nava said he was particularly moved by items he saw in the rubble while walking around the site. One piece of paper he uncovered had a child’s writing and appeared to be the homework of an elementary school student.
“What you can see in the debris and mud are the shattered pieces of their lives,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking to talk to people who have lost loved ones.”
The cost of the landslide is not limited to rescue personnel and rebuilding homes, Nava said. Commerce within the state has slowed substantially because of damage done by the last storm.
“The total cost of this will be tens of millions of dollars,” he said. “We have to take into consideration the economic losses associated with the closure of the 101 and the rail line. Especially in Santa Barbara, the economy depends on the flow of vehicles.”
In particular, Nava pointed out the delay of gasoline deliveries to Santa Barbara gas stations. Nava said the gasoline supply was replenished Wednesday with a shipment from San Francisco.
Nava also took a helicopter tour of Santa Barbara County with several other California legislators to view flooded areas of Carpinteria, Highway 154 and Maria Ygnacio Creek.
“The 154 is frightening to behold,” Nava said. “There are boulders in the road that are bigger than a Volkswagon.”
While Highway 154 remains closed indefinitely, Caltrans officials expect Highway 101 to be open by Friday.
– The Associated Press contributed to this story