Governor Vows Aid As California Rescuers Continue Searching For Mudslide Survivors

Rescue workers, buoyed by word late Wednesday that everyone believed to be missing following a deadly mudslide has now been accounted for.


LA CONCHITA, Calif. (AP) _ Rescue workers, buoyed by word late Wednesday that everyone believed to be missing following a deadly mudslide has now been accounted for, continued to dig through a giant pile of mud and debris nonetheless, seeking to make sure that no one was overlooked.

The final three people on a list of those reported missing since the mudslide that killed 10 people struck Monday were finally accounted for late Wednesday night, said Capt. Harold Humphries of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department. But he said rescue operations would continue nonstop well into Thursday to make sure no victims have gone overlooked.

Authorities believe that if anyone is still trapped in the debris, there is a chance they could be found alive.

Earlier Wednesday, as rescue workers searched for survivors, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger arrived at this picturesque seaside hamlet to survey the devastation. He promised residents the state would help them return to their homes.

After a helicopter tour, the governor also praised weary workers and residents who waited anxiously for news of missing family members and friends.

''We have seen the power of nature cause damage and despair, but we will match that power with our own resolve,'' Schwarzenegger said as he declared a state of emergency in Ventura County.

Since the mudslide struck the small coastal community on Monday, 10 bodies have been pulled from the debris. At the beginning of the day, authorities had a list of 10 people still unaccounted for, but by late Wednesday they said all of those people had been located.

Before dawn, rescuers found four dead family members of Jimmie Wallet, a resident who had dug relentlessly alongside rescue crews in search of his 37-year-old wife Mechelle and daughters Hannah Jade, 10, Raven Violet, 6, and Paloma Julie, 2.

''I'm very pleased with the hard work and all the effort in finding my family,'' Wallet said in a prepared statement.

Crews using trained dogs, cameras and microphones intended to keep searching for survivors then reassess the rescue operation on Thursday night.

''In ideal situations, if they are unhurt and in a void, they could be there for four or five days,'' said Ventura County fire Capt. Conrad Quintana, referring to open pockets amid the debris.

Throughout Southern California, five days of record-setting rainfall gave way to clear skies and typically mild temperatures. But it could be weeks before the region recovers from the storm that killed at least 28 people.

The devastation was most stunning in La Conchita, a free-spirited beach town with about 260 residents sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the hills south of Santa Barbara. Fifteen homes were destroyed and 16 were damaged.

Dozens of residents attended a morning meeting with county officials to get information on those still missing and word about when they might be allowed to return to their homes.

Sobs filled the room as Geoff Dean, chief deputy of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, read the names of the dead _ the Wallet children and their mother first.

''Oh my God!'' one woman gasped. Others clutched each other and cried.

A few moments later, Dean read a list of 10 people who hadn't been heard from. Sorrow turned to joy as four residents were discovered to be alive and well. Later in the day, authorities said only three people were still known to be missing.

Seventeen-year-old Danielle Munroe was sitting in the audience when she heard her name announced and tentatively raised a hand.

''Excuse me,'' she said. ''I'm right here. Everyone in my house is all right.''

Later, residents were allowed back into their homes to get some possessions. But officials had no estimate of when they might be able to return for good because rescue operations were continuing and there was concern about the possibility of another slide.

The meeting turned tense when several people challenged authorities about why there was no evacuation order before the mudslide.

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