Crews work to clear mud and debris from Hwy. 101 in Montecito, CA after a deadly mudslide earlier in the week. Richard Lui/USA Today
Caltrans officials delayed the estimated reopening of Highway 101 in Santa Barbara County on Friday, citing difficulties with clearing the roadway and the ongoing search and rescue missions in Montecito.
There is currently no estimated reopening date, officials said. The highway has been closed between Highway 150 in Carpinteria and Milpas Street in Santa Barbara since Tuesday after rain brought deadly mudflows to Montecito. On Friday, authorities reopened southbound traffic at Padaro Lane in Carpinteria.
Caltrans spokesman Colin Jones said debris in the water presents a challenge to the cleanup process.
“You can pump the water out, but if you got debris in the water, the pumps have limited efficiency,” Jones said.
Previously, Caltrans officials estimated Highway 101 would reopen by midday Monday. The freeway provides the main thoroughfare connecting Santa Barbara and Ventura counties and is traversed by an estimated 95,000 motorists each day.
As the mudslide cleanup continues in Montecito on Jan. 11, 2018, California Task Force 8 of San Diego searches a property for victims on East Valley Road. JUAN CARLO/THE STAR
“It’s the number one priority right now for Caltrans to get the roadway clear and reopened,” Jones said.
Current routes available between Santa Barbara and Ventura include Interstate 5 via Highway 166, riding the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner and ferry trips conducted by Island Packers and Condor Express.
The number of people killed by the mudslides rose to 18 on Friday when search and rescue crews found Joseph Francis Bleckel, 87, of Montecito, deceased in his residence. Bleckel was previously listed as a missing person, authorities said.
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office said there were five active missing person investigations as of Friday afternoon. However, incident officials said the number of missing people reported was subject to fluctuation as cases were resolved and people are located.
More than 1,200 personnel were assigned to the mudslide area in Montecito as of Friday morning, nearly double the amount that was assigned only a day prior. The uptick in responders comes in conjunction with a more than threefold increase in the number of fire engines also assigned to the incident.
As of Friday morning, 1,250 personnel were performing search and rescue operations along with 29 K-9 urban search and rescue units, four water rescue teams and three helicopters, officials said.
The 30-square mile affected area was placed under a mandatory evacuation order Thursday evening as incident officials deemed the area unsafe for occupation due to the hazardous and unstable environment.