At noon on Thursday, Ventura County Sheriff Bob Brooks and Fire Chief Bob Roper announced the suspension of the rescue effort in La Conchita.
As of Thursday morning, the Ventura County medical examiner determined that there would be no more survivors found in the rubble of the landslide based on the number of days that have passed since the landslide originally occurred. Geologists at the site were also concerned for the safety of rescue personnel because the hill moved another eight feet between the hours of 2 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Thursday.
“We believe that the La Conchita community is a geologically hazardous area,” Brooks said. “It has been historically, it is today and it will remain so. We do not recommend that people return to this area or [that] the people who stay here remain here.”
Caltrans released a press statement Thursday estimating that both directions of Highway 101 near La Conchita would reopen by noon today.
Rescue agencies from other areas of the state have left the La Conchita area and the Ventura County Sheriff’s and Fire departments are in the process of helping evacuated residents return to their homes. La Conchita residents are gathering today at the Ventura County Fairgrounds to discuss their return.
“Now it’s time to rebuild the community, and that’s what we’re here to do,” Roper said.
Congresswoman Lois Capps, who represents the 23rd District of California, wrote a letter to President George W. Bush on Thursday urging him to designate the region as a federal disaster area so residents as well as the county will be eligible to receive additional aid.
According to Capps’ letter the recent storms have devastated not only La Conchita but the economy of the entire county, with an estimated $24 million in crop damage.
Thirty-fifth District assembly member Pedro Nava announced Thursday that he will introduce legislation seeking tax relief for storm victims.
“This legislation would provide tax relief assistance to victims of flooding and mudslides caused by the winter storms of 2005,” Nava said in a press release. “As the damage assessments continue to be compiled, details of the legislation will be solidified. The tax relief assistance may include income tax relief and help with property tax reassessment.”
Monday’s landslide claimed the lives of Michael Alvis, 53, Vanessa Bryson, 28, Christina Kennedy, 45 , John Morgan, 56, Patrick Roderick, 47, Hannah Wallet, 10, Mechelle Wallet, 37, Paloma Wallet, 2, Raven Wallet, 6, and Charles Womack, 51.
Carpinteria Chamber of Commerce member Lynda Lang, along with Montecito Bank & Trust, Santa Barbara Bank & Trust and La Conchita residents have set up a Web site for donation information to help the victims and their families. The Web site is www.SantaBarbara.com/Victims-of-La-Conchita/.
As of Thursday night, there are two people still known to be missing, Ron Lehlea and William Holmes. The Ventura County Sheriff’s Dept. is urging anyone with information on the missing people to call (805) 654-2311.
– The Associated Press contributed to this story