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Santa Barbara County authorities said Thursday afternoon up to 43 people are missing as a result of the mudslides this week in the Montecito area.
As of that time, the confirmed death toll from the Southern California disaster stood at 17 people. Crews continued to search for victims on Thursday afternoon and the effort was expected to continue through the night.
Devastating floods and mud flows were triggered Tuesday after heavy rain fell on areas recently burned in the massive Thomas fire, the largest wildfire in California history. The wildfire left charred hillsides without vegetation cover to hold the heavy rainfall.
The water and powerful debris flows destroyed about 100 homes and damaged 300 others in the Montecito community, known for its multimillion-dollar properties. Mudflows traveled through neighborhoods near where Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres have homes.
"There are 43 people now who may be considered as missing," Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told reporters at a Thursday afternoon press conference. "This remains a very active search and rescue mission."
In updating the missing figure, Brown said that the precise number could fluctuate significantly. The number provided by county officials earlier in the day was eight missing. "This is a constantly changing list," he said.
The sheriff told reporters all of the victims were from Montecito. He said those who perished range in age from three to 89 years old.
"There are four juveniles on the list," he said. "There are mothers, fathers, grandfathers, siblings and the list goes on and on."
The devastation affected an area estimated at 30 square miles, according to Cal Fire.