Montecito Mudslides: Death Toll Rises to 21 After Body of 28-Year-Old Mother Is Discovered

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The number of people dead after catastrophic flooding and mudslides swept through wildfire-scarred Montecito has risen to 21 after searchers recovered the body of a local mother on Saturday.

Faviola Benitez Calderon is seen in a driver's license photo released by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department.
Faviola Benitez Calderon is seen in a driver’s license photo released by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.

The remains of Faviola Benitez Calderon, 28, were located by a search dog shortly before 10 a.m. Saturday morning in the 100 block of Santo Tomas Lane, above Coast Village Road, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.

Calderon is the fourth member of her family to perish amid fallout from the Jan. 9 storm; her 10-year-old son, Jonathan Benitez; his 3-year-old cousin Kailly Benitez; and Kailly’s mother, 27-year-old Marilyn Ramos, have also died, sheriff’s officials said.

But a 2-year-old son of Calderon’s, Ian Benitez, was rescued from beneath the silt nearly three-quarters of a mile from where he was last seen and is recovering, according to the Santa Barbara Independent. Her husband, Victor Benitez, is also expected to survive but is “in bad shape,” the news weekly reported.

Two people remain missing in Santa Barbara County: 17-year-old John “Jack” Cantin and Lydia Sutthithepa, 2, whose father, 30-year-old Pinit Sutthithepa, was found dead a week ago.

The Benitez family rented a home on East Valley Road near the Sutthithepas, with whom they were friends, according to the Independent.

Rescue crews are continuing to sift through the silt in attempt to find Cantin andLydia, and officials do seem to be making headway on the overwhelming cleanup and recovery operation that shut down a major coastal thoroughfare.

On Monday, the 101 Freeway is set to fully reopen for the first time in nearly two weeks of being shut down through Santa Barbara since the storm hit. In a tweet, Caltrans officials described the effort as being unprecedented in magnitude.

The devastating mudflows were triggered by the heavy inundation of terrain left unstable by the Thomas Fire, the largest blaze in the state’s modern history which wasn’t fully contained until Jan. 12, three days after the mudslides broke out.

Another two people died as a result of that disaster, one a fireman from San Diego who became trapped, and the other a Santa Paula woman found dead in her car along an evacuation route.

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