A 3-year-old girl and multiple other children were among the 17 victims of a deadly mud slide in California, according to a list released by authorities.
Torrential rain sent an avalanche of debris and water surging down a hillside that had been stripped bare by recent wildfires, tearing houses from their foundations and launching a days-long slog to rescue people still trapped in cars and homes.
As the search-and-rescue effort unfolded, sheriff’s officials declined to publicly release details about the dead — in part an acknowledgement that the toll could mount higher — as they whittled down the number of missing people. They have now released the names of those who died.
All 17 people who perished were from the town of Montecito, and four were children: 10-year-old Jonathan Benitez, 3-year-old Kailly Benitez, 12-year-old Sawyer Corey and 6-year-old Peerawat Sutthithepn all lost their lives. Eight of those who died were above the age of 60.
Even before officials publicly released names, details about some of the dead had already started to trickle out as their employers paid tribute.
A Santa Barbara real estate firm confirmed that a partner after whom the business was named, Rebecca Riskin, had died. According two the sheriff’s office, she was 61.
“Rebecca was an exceptional woman, and her legacy will continue to live on and thrive through her children, Robert and Julia, her husband Ken Grand, and her namesake firm, Riskin Partners,” the firm said on Facebook.
Also among the dead was 84-year-old Roy Rohter, who founded the Saint Augustine Academy. “Please pray for the repose of the soul of our founder, Roy Rohter - a giant gift to the Catholic Church and all things true, good and beautiful,” the school wrote on Facebook.
Families were grieving the loss of loved ones whose fates they had frantically tried to determine earlier this week. A niece of one of the dead had issued a call on Facebook earlier this week for anyone who had information about her uncle, who had disappeared after his “house foundation was lifted when the flood came in”.
As of Thursday afternoon, rescuers had located all but eight people still believed to be missing. Authorities estimated that 65 homes were destroyed and another 446 were badly damaged.