California’s iconic Highway 101 in Santa Barbara reopened on Sunday nearly two weeks after it was covered with 3.7m of debris from mudslides, and a day after the discovery of a missing woman’s body pushed the death toll to 21.
Torrential rains triggered the January 9 mudslides, which injured dozens more people and destroyed or damaged hundreds of buildings around the affluent community of Montecito, 137km northwest of Los Angeles.
The reopening of the busy north-south coastal highway followed what the state transportation agency Caltrans called a “Herculean effort,” and was expected to ease hours-long detours and traffic chaos that bedevilled commuters.
Cleanup crews had been working around the clock in 12-hour shifts, officials said, while ferry boats had been making commuter runs twice a day between Santa Barbara and Ventura to help residents trying to get to work.
Search and rescue teams continued working with dogs on Sunday in Montecito to look for a two-year-old and a 17-year-old who are still missing, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter.
On Saturday, the teams found the body of missing 28-year-old Faviola Benitez Calderon, of Montecito. She belonged to a family that lost several members in the disaster.
“The sheriff’s office wants to express our deepest condolences to the Benitez family, who were already mourning the loss of Faviola’s 10-year-old son, Jonathan Benitez and his cousin 3-year-old Kailly Benitez, as well as Kailly’s mother, 27-year-old Marilyn Ramos,” the office said in a statement.
The discovery of Calderon’s body brought the number of fatalities to 21.
The toll had already marked the greatest loss of life from a California mudslide in at least 13 years.
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