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Most of mudslide-stricken Southern California town told to leave

Profile image for Krysta Fauria and Brian Melley
Krysta Fauria and Brian Melley, Associated Press

MONTECITO, Calif. -- Most residents of mudslide-ravaged Montecito were under orders to clear out Friday as the search for victims dragged on and crews labored to clean up massive debris and repair power, water and gas lines.

Even those who didn't lose their homes in the disaster that left at least 18 people dead were told to leave for up to two weeks so they wouldn't interfere with the rescue and recovery operation.

It was another frustrating turn for those living in the Southern California town that has been subject to repeated evacuation orders in recent weeks, first because of a monster wildfire last month, then because of downpours and mudslides.

More than 1,200 workers taking part in the search and cleanup effort flooded into the town with a population of about 9,000.

Curious and concerned citizens who had trudged through the mud Thursday to view the devastation were nowhere to be seen as more firefighters in bright yellow rain gear searched methodically and utility crews in orange safety vests worked with chain saws and jackhammers.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said residents who had stayed behind or tried to check on damage in neighborhoods where homes were leveled and car-size boulders blocked roads and littered properties had hindered the recovery effort.

On Thursday, Brown expanded what was known as the public safety exclusion zone to incorporate most of the town.

That meant even those who had stayed behind would have to leave and those who entered the zone would be subject to arrest.

Residents who remained in town Friday were either seen packing their cars with clothing and other belongings for their latest evacuation or staying out of sight.

"It is a little frustrating," said Sarah Ettman. "It's martial law here, basically. You know there are looters being caught and there are so many gawkers and people that just have no business being in here."