The death toll from devastating mudslides - caused by torrential rains in wildfire-scarred areas of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in Southern California - climbed to 17 Wednesday as rescue crews with dogs and thermal-imaging equipment searched for anyone trapped, injured or dead.
The fire erupted December 4 in Ventura County, destroying hundreds of homes before it spread into Santa Barbara County and threatened more communities including Montecito.
The drenching storm that triggered the disaster gave way to sunny skies, as hundreds of searchers carefully combed a messy landscape strewn with hazards.
California Fire spokesman Brad Bihun says, "Right now we still are in a rescue mode so we don't know what is out there". "The mud is acting like a candy shell on ice cream". 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.
On Friday, the estimated number of missing people was down to five, after an estimate of 43 on Thursday.
Sawyer's twin sister, Summer, and their mother, Carie Baker, were found and are recovering at a local hospital, Baker's nephew, Logan Kessler, told PEOPLE on Wednesday.
A dozen people were hospitalized at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and four were in critical condition, Dr. Brett Wilson said.
More than 1,200 workers have been deployed in the town of about 9,000 residents for the search and cleanup effort. "You'd think they would make those people evacuate no matter what".
Some 100 homes in the picturesque Santa Barbara area have been levelled to the ground on Tuesday, and at least 300 buildings have been damaged.
The region's natural beauty and easy access to Los Angeles to the southeast have long attracted the rich and powerful, including media mogul and actress Oprah Winfrey, talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres and actor Jeff Bridges. We extend honest condolences to his family and all who knew him as a colleague and friend.
The roofs of some homes in canyon runoff areas were encased in mud, which has now dried. Fallen power lines crisscrossed a neighbor's yard, and trees lay like knocked-over bowling pins.
The cleanup was going on near where Weimer's missing parents, Jim and Alice Mitchell, lived. "If we felt they did not have a problem, we would not have issued a warning at all".
It's hard for her to describe the horrific moments after mudslides tore through their home in the middle of the night.
She said her uncle will need money to replace his home and possessions - and to bury his partner.
Under sunny skies that belied the arduous and at times grim task assigned to them, some 500 responders remained in "search and rescue mode", trying to reach people in need of evacuation, as well as those who perished when near-record rainfall fell on the steep hillsides denuded by the massive Thomas Fire last month, said Kevin Taylor, deputy chief for the Montecito Fire Protection District and the incident commander. Together with the loss of vegetation, this leads to an increased risk of mudslides and floods.
In a rescue helicopter that was surveying the damage on Wednesday, National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Sean Quillin said the shock and speed of the mudslide had left almost every survivor shaken. "They're finding people and bodies and I mean, you hear the word mudslide and you have no idea the impact that it has, but after the largest fire in California history, it's catastrophic".