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California Mudslides Death Toll Rises To 19, Residents Told To Evacuate

David Drenic (L) and Robert Drenic (R) look for salvageable items in a the home of a family member that was destroyed by a mudslide on Jan. 11, in Montecito, Calif.

Updated at 10:25 p.m. ET

On the fourth day of search for victims of the southern California mudslides, the death toll has increased to 19 people, the Santa Barbara sheriff's office tells NPR. At least 5 people, including a 2-year-old, remain missing.

Twenty-five-year-old victim Morgan Corey was located in the mud and debris in Montecito, county Sheriff Bill Brown told the Associated Press on Saturday. Her 12-year-old sister, Sawyer, previously died in the perilous conditions.

Joseph Bleckel, 87, also died, in his Montecito home, the sheriff's office reported early Saturday.

But 62-year-old Delbert Weltzin, who had been previously identified as missing, was "found alive and well," Brown told the AP.

The victims' ages ranged from 3 to 89 and the cause of death for all was "multiple traumatic injuries due to flash flood with mudslides due to recent wildfire," according to the sheriff's office.

The mudslides were part of an evolving natural disaster. They followed heavy rains in Santa Barbara County, where the enormous Thomas fire burned vegetation off the hillsides. The mud swept homes off their foundations and caused a 30-square-mile debris flow. U.S. Route 101, California's primary coastal route, remains partially shut down.

"The mud and debris flow has completely isolated places like Santa Barbara," Jonathan Bastian of member station KCRW told NPR's Scott Simon. "It's posing these kind of major problems. Santa Barbara has the closest trauma center to the scene of the disaster ... and a lot of nurses that work there just simply couldn't get to work. So lot of them started to jump on boats that were ferrying around the wreckage so they could actually get there."

Many of the deaths and injuries occurred at locations that were not under mandatory evacuation for flooding, but weeks earlier, said areas were evacuated during a series of fires.

"Safety officials just didn't see this happening," said Bastian. "It's creating a lot of anger and finger-pointing."

Today, residents of Montecito, Calif., are being told to evacuate as emergency crews turn off gas and power to continue to clear mud and debris. Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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