A young mother asleep with her three-year-old daughter as her 10-year-old nephew slumbered nearby were among the 18 people killed in a devastating mudslide that brought tragedy and sorrow to the small, wealthy California enclave of Montecito.
Other victims included a 22-year-old woman who died in the arms of her brother as he frantically tried to save her after their father was swept to his death by the fast-moving river of mud.
Californian authorities have called for public help in locating seven people still missing although they acknowledge that finding anyone alive would be a ‘miracle’.
‘The missing persons were reported by family and friends, and resided in areas that were heavily damaged during the storm and subsequent mudslides,’ the sheriff’s office said.
The disaster struck on Tuesday after heavy rains soaked the area. Sodden hillsides gave way, unleashing a torrent of mud, water, uprooted trees and boulders onto the valley below and causing what the police described as ‘traumatic injuries’ to the victims, who ranged in age from 3 to 89.
The sheriff’s office listed the names of the missing, who range in age from two to 62, in a statement on Friday night
Here are their stories and those of others in a community where victims ranged from captains of industry to the people who manicure their lawns:
Marilyn Ramos, 27, (left) was killed along with her young daughter Kailly Benitez, 3, (right) in the floods
Marilyn Ramos was asleep in bed with her three-year-old daughter, Kaelly Benitez, when the deadly mudslide came crashing through their Montecito rental home, carrying both to their deaths.
Also killed was Kaelly’s 10-year-old cousin, Jonathan Benitez, who was asleep nearby.
Marilyn’s husband, Antonio Benitez, was injured, as was his brother, Victor, who is Jonathan’s father. Victor’s 2-year-old son survived, but his wife, Fabiola, was still missing on Saturday.
The brothers, immigrants from Mexico, owned a gardening and landscaping business in Montecito. Marilyn was a stay-at-home mom.
‘My sister was such a good person, she only thought of others to the point that she would cry with you when you were hurt or sick,’ Jennifer Ramos said between sobs as she spoke by phone from her home in Mexico.
Her 27-year-old sister called relatives every day in the town of Marquelia, near Acapulco on Mexico’s Pacific coast, Jennifer Ramos said. When a call didn’t come Tuesday she sensed something was wrong.
During her last call home the day before, Marilyn put her daughter on the phone and she happily told her aunt about the toys she received on January 6, The Day of the Magi, a holiday widely celebrated in Latin America.
During a visit home in September, Marilyn Ramos told her family she missed Mexico and hoped to return someday. On Friday, her family spoke with Mexican officials about bringing her body back.
Her family are now trying to raise money for them to return both (left) mother and daughter (right) , to Ramos’ native Marquelia, in Guerrero, southern Mexico
Peter Fleurat was at home with his partner of 17 years during Tuesday’s violent storm when the couple felt the floor beneath them shake and roll.
Moments later, a wall of mud burst through their walls and swept him and Ralph ‘Lalo’ Barajas away.
‘The last thing Peter yelled out to me was, ‘Lalo, grab onto some wood and don’t let go,” Barajas told CBS News. ‘That was the last I heard of him.’
Barajas was rescued, treated for cuts, bruises and a sprained neck and released from a Santa Barbara hospital. He searched for his partner until he got the news that he had died.
Peter Fleurat, 73, (right) and his life partner Ralph ‘Lalo’ Barajas were asleep in their bed at 3.30am on Tuesday when water began gushing into their house in Montecito
Fleurat (left and right) was swept to his death. His body was found just a few hours later near Olive Mill, at 11am on Tuesday, although his family were not notified until the following day
Friends and family have paid tribute to Fleurat, who studied nursing at Santa Barbara City College and worked as an end-of-life carer
The mudslide hit the couple’s Hot Springs Road home so hard it was knocked off its foundations, according to another friend.
Friends and family have paid tribute to Fleurat, who studied nursing at Santa Barbara City College and worked as an end-of-life carer.
Juli Miller wrote on Facebook: ‘With a very heavy heart, our kind, creative friend with an unforgettable laugh has left us. Thank you all for sharing and especially to Cynthia for finding the most recent information for us. Hug your loved ones and stay in contact with people you adore. You never know when it will be too late.’
‘He’s a great loss to so many people,’ Seal said. ‘He was just a very unique person. Everyone loved him. He was fun, he was mischievous, he would also always play jokes on you.’
Fleurat grew up in upstate New York and moved to Montecito in the 1970s. There he met Barajas and the couple have been together for the past 20 years. His family are now traveling down from New York for his funeral.
A GoFundMe account has been set up by Barajas’ niece Angelique Barajas to help pay for Fleurat’s funeral and her uncle’s medical expenses.
Fleurat grew up in upstate New York and moved to Montecito in the 1970s. There he met Barajas and the couple have been together for the past 20 years
Dr Mark Montgomery, 54, died in the mudslides
His daughter Caroline Montgomery, 22 was also killed. She was back home for the holidays
Dr. Mark Montgomery and his family returned from a Brazilian vacation only two days before the mudslide that took his and his daughter Caroline’s life came crashing down a hillside into their two-story home.
Montgomery’s wife and oldest daughter had left for a business trip to New York soon after returning home Sunday. He stayed behind with his 22-year-old daughter, Caroline Montgomery, who had just graduated from Barnard College in New York, and his 20-year-old son, Duffy.
The three were asleep before dawn Tuesday when the mudslide slammed into their home. The 54-year-old physician, sleeping downstairs, was swept away.
His daughter, sleeping upstairs, was engulfed in mud and other debris. As Duffy tried to save her she died in his arms, said Dr. Michael Behrman, a longtime family friend. Her brother suffered a broken shoulder blade and other injuries.
Behrman had been staying in the Montgomery family’s home while they vacationed, his own home having burned down during the devastating wildfire that struck the area last month.
‘Having a house burned down and losing all your stuff doesn’t seem like a very big deal now,’ he told The Associated Press on Friday. ‘It’s losing Mark and his daughter and the utter devastation of the area that has gone along with that. ‘I – like everybody here – knew several of the other people who died.’
He was especially close to Montgomery, having recruited his fellow orthopedic surgeon to Santa Barbara more than 20 years ago and having mentored Montgomery during his residency.
‘He made a huge difference in people’s lives,’ Behrman said. ‘He was an absolutely wonderful guy, who had a kind word for everybody, very friendly, compassionate and wonderful with his patients.’
The hand surgeon, a popular figure in the local community, who graduated from Princeton University and Columbia University Medical School, was described as ‘kind and caring’ by his patients. As word of the physician’s death spread, tributes poured onto social media.
‘He fixed my hand after a camping accident in 2012, two weeks before my wedding,’ David Iglesias told the KSBY television station. ‘I cut all the tendons in my fingers. He was able to reattach them. I have full use and feeling in my hand because of Dr. Montgomery.’
Elderly couple James Mitchell, 89, and Alice Mitchell, 78, had been missing since early on Tuesday.
The couple had been married for more than 50 years and had just celebrated Jim’s 89th birthday when they were swept away along with their dog Gigi.
Jim, who worked in labor relations, and Alice, a schoolteacher, had moved to Montecito in 1995 after raising their two children in Southern California’s Orange County.
‘They’re an adorable couple, and they were in love with their house,’ their daughter, Kelly Weimer, said Wednesday before learning they had died.
She last spoke to them Monday when she called to wish her father a happy birthday.
The couple had planned to stay at home the night of the storm and have a quiet dinner. Their grandson had taken them out to celebrate the day before.
The Mitchells are survived by their two children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Married couple James, 89, (left) and Alice, 78, (right) Mitchell were tragically killed on Tuesday
The elderly couple had been married for more than 50 years and had just celebrated Jim’s 89th birthday when they were swept away along with their beloved white poodle Gigi. The coroner confirmed their deaths on Thursday
Rebecca Riskin was the picture of success and health before she was killed along with her two dogs.
Her firm, Riskin Partners, credited the former ballerina with having closed more than $2 billion in high-end real estate sales since she founded the company in the early 1990s.
‘She’s leaving a huge void. She was exceptional,’ said Gina Conte, who described the 61-year-old Riskin as her best friend, mentor and confidante.
Real estate broker Rebbecca Riskin, 61, (right) were killed in the mudslides
Conte said Riskin, who was the maid of honor at her wedding, took joy in pairing the perfect home with the perfect family and loved cooking, going for long walks and spending movie nights with her family.
Riskin was swept away after a mudslide tore through her living room, Conte said, adding that her husband survived because he was in bed in a part of the house that stayed intact. Her body was found Wednesday near a highway.
Riskin Partners spokeswoman Erin Lammers said Riskin was a member of the American Ballet Theater in New York before an injury cut short her dancing career.
She returned to her hometown of Los Angeles in 1979, where she began selling high-end real estate on the city’s west side. She moved to Montecito in the early 1990s.
‘It is with heavy hearts we share that our dear friend and partner, Rebecca Riskin, has passed away as a result of the tragic flooding and mudslides in Montecito,’ the company wrote in a statement. ‘The confirmation of her loss is incredibly devastating to her friends, family, and our community.’
‘Rebecca was an exceptional woman, and her legacy will continue to live on and thrive through her children, Robert and Julia, her husband Ken Grand, and her namesake firm, Riskin Partners.’
Colleagues at Riskin Partners described how she’s closed more than $2 billion worth of deals since founding the firm in the 1990s.
‘She’s leaving a huge void. She was exceptional,’ said Conte
Riskin is survived by her husband, two grown children and a grandson.
Dave Cantin was also swept to his death in the mudslide
David Cantin, 49, died after being swept away from his home along with his teenage son. His daughter Lauren was filmed being rescued by firefighters from their home after they heard her screaming from the wreckage.
Friends initially reported that his son Jack, 16, had been found safe and was hospitalized but those reports lost weight on Thursday as relatives continued to search for him.
Daughter, Lauren, 14, became the face of survival when rescuers pulled the mud-covered girl from her flattened home earlier this week
NeoTract, a maker of devices used in the medical field of urology, launched a fundraising page Wednesday, asking for financial support for the family of Cantin’s mother, Kim, a marketing executive.
In two days it more than tripled its goal of $20,000. It took firefighters hours to dig Lauren out of the mud that destroyed her home.
‘I thought I was dead for a minute,’ she told them before an ambulance took her away.
David was vice president of global sales for a leading developer of instruments used by surgeons.
Cantin’s company, NDS Surgical Imaging, developed some of the medical industry’s earliest digital imaging technologies for minimally invasive surgery.
He graduated from Bryant University and obtained a graduate degree from Xavier University, according to his employer’s website.
He was also a Scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts.
Josie Gower, 69, a retired nurse confirmed dead by friends on social media on Wednesday
Josephine ‘Josie’ Gower, who also died in the Montecito mudslides, was celebrated by family as a woman who loved and embraced life for each one of her 69 years.
‘I have never met anyone quite like her and never will again,’ her daughter-in-law Sarah Gower wrote on Facebook after authorities confirmed Gower was one of 18 people killed by mudslides. ‘She was the life of the party, always, and loved us all so fiercely. She lived for her kids and for our kids.’
Gower’s own Facebook page reveals a woman with a playful love of life. One photo shows her dressed as a mermaid by a pool while others show her riding horses and cuddling with her cats.
‘A bundle of fun,’ her daughter-in-law said. ‘She was just simply the most loving, cheerful, beautiful, strong, independent force. We will miss her so.’
A retired nurse, she was confirmed dead by friends on social media on Wednesday after a frantic 24 hour search for her.
Josies body was carried miles by the mudslides
A friend said that Gower and another friend had been on the second floor of her home but had gone downstairs after hearing noises. They were both swept away by the mudslide, although the other friend was found clinging to a nearby tree.
Friends revealed that her body was carried ‘several miles’ by the river of mud which rushed through the town.
‘Heartbreaking loss as we learned that she was taken from us by the muddy floodwaters and swept downhill for several miles,’ one said. She is believed to have died along with her dog.
‘She was very gregarious, very unique. In so many ways she was so beautiful,’ added Diane Brewer, who knew Gower for decades. ‘Everyone loves her. She truly was one of a kind.
‘And she would always stop to give cookies or other treats to people at the YMCA,’ she said.
She is survived by two adult children and three grandchildren.
Friends and family remembered John McManigal as a dedicated family man who died trying to help one of his six children flee the pre-dawn mudslide enveloping their home.
Awakened by a last-second warning Tuesday that disaster was approaching, McManigal, 61, roused his 23-year-old son, Connor, and the pair tried to flee. He was killed. His son, carried a mile by the mud, survived.
Connor’s worried brother, Tyler McManigal, 28, who is stationed at a military base in Hawaii, read about the mudslides and shared his concerns for his father on Wednesday.
McManigal, 64, (left) and his young son Connor (not pictured) were swept away in the mudslide. His son survived but John was sadly killed. Martin Cabrera-Munoz, 48, (right) also died in the mudslide
‘Connor, is recovering from serious injuries in the hospital,’ a friend said in a statement posted on a GoFundMe account which has been set up to raise money for the grieving family.
The posting described McManigal as ‘an amazing man, father of six, and a loving husband.’
His community activities included serving as a host father for the Santa Barbara Foresters baseball club, for which Connor played.
‘Like the rest of our larger Santa Barbara community, we are crushed by this tragedy,’ the club said in a statement. ‘We send love, prayers, and strength to the affected families and their loved ones.’
Martin Cabrera-Munoz, 48, was confirmed dead by younger brother Joel who said Martin was killed when the floods hit East Valley Road. The family have launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for his funeral services.
Roy Rohter was swept away from his home with his wife. She survived but he was killed
One of the oldest victims was Roy Rohter, revered founder of a private Catholic school in nearby Ventura.
The 84-year-old former real estate broker had fled his Montecito home just last month when it came under threat from the wildfire. He died at that home, authorities confirmed Thursday.
‘Roy believed intensely in the power of a Catholic education,’ St. Augustine Academy Headmaster Michael Van Hecke, said this week. ‘He’s been a deep supporter of the school in every way and a mentor to me personally, to the faculty and to the kids.’
Officials of the K-12 school Rohter founded in 1994 said his wife was injured in the mudslide but survived.
‘Pray also for his wife, Theresa, the gentle giant of charity and grace, and for his children and grandchildren,’ the school said in a statement.
Rohter, a former real estate broker, was the first victim to be confirmed dead in the disaster.
Sawyer Corey, 12, and her sister Morgan, 25, were at home with the rest of their family when the mudslides crept over their home. Their mother Carrie and other sister, Summer, were also swept away but they were rescued. They are currently in hospital recovering from the ordeal.
But on Thursday, the coroner confirmed that Sawyer was among the dead. Her sister Morgan is still missing.
Jonathan Benitez, nine, was swept from his home along with his mother, Fabiola, who is missing. The child’s father and brother survived and were hospitalized.
On Thursday, a resident in Montecito who is friends with the family confirmed to DailyMail.com that Jonathan’s body had been found.
Sawyer Corey, 12 was at home with the rest of their family when the mudslides crept over their home. Her mother Carrie and twin sister, Summer, were also swept away but they were rescued (pictured is Sawyer, Summer and their mom Carrie)
Kids, Sawyer Corey, 12, (left) and Jonathan Benitez, nine, (right) died after he was swept from their home in the floods
Also named among the dead were Peerawat Sutthithepa , 6, and Richard Taylor , 67.
Also named among the dead were Peerawat Sutthithepa, 6, and Richard Taylor, 67.
Peerawat fled his home with his family during December’s fires taking shelter at a Red Cross evacuation center.
The family was able to stay safe during that terrifying week but were unable to escape the mudslides that followed.
Peerawat was known as Pasta. His father and two-year-old sister are still missing.
Richard Taylor, Sutthithepa’s 79-year-old stepfather, was also killed.
The family’s house was destroyed by mud, boulders, debris and rushing water, said Mike Caldwell, general manager of Toyota of Santa Barbara, where Sutthithepa was an employee, in a GoFundMe page to raise funds for the family. ‘Literally nothing is left.’
Peerawat, 6, fled his home with his family and took shelter at a Red Cross evacuation center during last month’s fires but they were unable to escape the devastating mudslides that followed