Death toll from California mudslides rises to 18

WATCH U.S. Coast Guard crews airlift stranded residents from homes hit by California mudslides

Another danger faced by search workers is toxic contamination from broken sewage lines, said Buzzerio.

Even wrecked cars have been swept onto beaches.

They were assisted by firefighters and search-and-rescue teams who continued to try to account for the missing.

"It was still very stunning to see the extent of the devastation, to see the breadth of the area that has been impacted so terribly by this", he told reporters.

The number of missing fluctuated throughout the day as new reports that people couldn't be accounted for came in and as other people were found, Brown said.

The Santa Barbara County Coroner's Office on Thursday released the names of 17 people killed in Tuesday's mudslides. But it also encompasses those who have been named in calls to the operations center and family assistance center. Residents will not be allowed to return to their homes while the evacuation order is lifted, which may not happen for one or two weeks, officials said.

At least 65 homes in Santa Barbara County were destroyed in the storm and another 446 were damaged, while eight commercial buildings were flattened, according to the latest count by Santa Barbara County Fire Department. As the heaviest rain bands centered over Santa Barbara County, officials urged residents to "shelter in place or move to higher ground" instead of attempting to flee any fast-moving mudflows. "It continues as a search and rescue mission".

NeoTract, a maker of devices used in the medical field of urology, has launched a fundraising page asking for financial support for the family of Kim Cantin. "Was it going to take out my entire house?" he said.

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Montecito, a wealthy enclave north of Los Angeles, bore the brunt of a rainstorm that drenched southern California on Monday and Tuesday, triggering mudslides in hilly areas in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties recently scorched by wildfires.

Rebecca Riskin, the founding partner of Montecito real estate company Riskin Partners, is also missing, according to her relative, Lynne Creighton.

Hours later, Brewer confirmed Gower's death.

The statement says Riskin was an "exceptional woman" who had exuded strength, grace and elegance. The number of missing had grown, officials said, after authorities combed through social media posts and message boards at evacuation shelters. A clerical error earlier on Thursday briefly inflated that to 48 before it was corrected.

Last month a series of bushfires ravaged the area and wiped out root vegetation, contributing to the instability of the soil and its inability to absorb moisture - priming the area for the devastating mudslides.

The county initially ordered 7,000 residents to evacuate and urged another 23,000 to do so voluntarily, but only 10 to 15 percent complied with mandatory orders, said Amber Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

An emergency notification delivered to cell phones in the area wasn't sent until around 3:50 a.m. Tuesday - more than an hour after the National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for the area reporting mudslides were imminent.

The water and powerful debris flows destroyed about 100 homes and damaged 300 others in the Montecito community, known for its multimillion-dollar properties.

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