Death toll from Montecito mudslides climbs to 20; Hwy. 101 opening date still unknown

Update: Monday, Jan. 15

Caltrans announced a projected timetable for reopening Highway 101 on Monday. Read more: Hwy. 101 could reopen as soon as next week.

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Update, 5 p.m.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown spoke Sunday about the latest mudslide victim, 30-year-old Pinit Sutthithepa. Suttithepa’s father-in-law and young son were also killed in the mudslides.

“This family is one of several that has lost multiple family members and we know the suffering of those who knew and loved all of the victims is immense,” Brown said during a Sunday afternoon press conference. “We want you, the families of those victims, to know that there are so many people thinking of you, not just here in Santa Barbara County, but across the globe, and we extend to you our deepest sympathies.”

Brown also said sheriff’s detectives are actively investigating the four missing persons cases and urged anyone with information to call 1-833-688-5551.

The family assistance center will remain open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Tuesday, according to Suzanne Grimmesey, the chief quality care and strategy officer at the Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Wellness.

On Jan. 17, officials will open a local recovery and assistance center at Calvary Chapel of Santa Barbara, located at 1 North Calle Cesar Chavez in Santa Barbara. The center, which will include on-site childcare and translation services, will “serve as a centralized single-point location for central resources and services,” Grimmesey said.

Services offered will include counseling, resource and housing assistance, information to aid in rebuilding, hazardous material cleanup, support for loss of business or employment and health and human services, Grimmesey said. The center, which will be staffed by local, state and federal agencies, will be open from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. It will be closed on Sundays.

Authorities expect the center to be open at least through Feb. 3, Grimmesey said.

There is still no projected date for Highway 101 to reopen, but Caltrans spokesman Jim Shivers said the agency is making “steady and sure progress.”

As of Sunday evening, Shivers said Caltrans had removed more than 150 yards of debris in northbound Highway 101 lanes and nearly 80 yards of debris in the southbound lanes. Much of the progress had been made in the past 12 to 18 hours, as water receded on the road, Shivers said.

There are 75 Caltrans employees working on both Highway 101 and Highway 192 in 12 hour shifts, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, Shivers said. Seven Caltrans crews from two neighboring districts are also pitching in.

Update, 11:50 a.m.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office has identified the latest mudslide victim as 30-year-old Pinit Sutthithepa. Authorities said Sutthithepa’s body was found at about 3:45 p.m. Saturday in the area of Hot Springs Road near Olive Mill Road. The body was positively identified Sunday morning.

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“We ask that you hold Pinit’s family and friends close to your hearts as they are also suffering the loss of Pinit’s son, 6-year-old Peerawat Sutthithepa and his father-in-law, 79-year-old Richard Loring Taylor, who were both fatally injured and located deceased on January 9, 2018,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. Sutthithepa’s 2-year-old daughter, Lydia Suttithepa, is still missing.

Pinit Suttithepa
Pinit Sutthithepa, 30, was identified Sunday as one of the victims of th deadly Monecito mudslides. Sutthithepa’s 2-year-old daughter, Lydia Suttithepa, is still missing. Courtesy photo

Original story

The death toll from the mudslides in Santa Barbara County rose yet again — as of Sunday morning, 20 people are dead and four are missing, according to an incident update from area officials.

Authorities have not yet released an identity for the latest victim. Officials say four people are still missing, down from five on Saturday, but it is unclear which names remain on the missing-person list.

Highways 101 and 192 remain closed, and commuters looking to travel from the Central Coast must take either I-5, via Highways 46 or 166, a ferry service like Island Packers or Condor Express or an Amtrak train.

Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner line, which runs along the Central Coast, announced Sunday morning that they expected trains traveling through Santa Barbara to be “very busy,” and they would add additional cars to existing trains to provide more capacity. Two delays in service from San Luis Obispo had been announced by about 9:30 Sunday morning.

“We ask for your continued patience as we work to add additional cars to existing trains and also continue cleanup efforts,” the Pacific Surfliner account said in a tweet.

Officials warned that the ocean from Gaviota to Carpinteria is still off-limits “due to bacterial levels that continue to exceed standards.”

While that restriction doesn’t apply to sandy beaches in the affected areas, members of the public are encouraged to avoid debris while on the beach.

Gabby Ferreira: 805-781-7858, @Its_GabbyF

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