A young mother asleep with her three-year-old daughter as her 10-year-old nephew slumbered nearby were among those killed in a devastating mudslide that brought tragedy and sorrow to the small, wealthy California enclave of Montecito as the death toll rises to 18.
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, Kaelly Benitez and Jonathan Benitez
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
Peter Fleurat 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 career.
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.
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Source: Daily Mail