“If we don’t get those debris basins cleaned out, then we’re not going to be prepared for the storm, and we don’t know what that storm is going to look like,” said Robert Lewin, Santa Barbara County’s emergency management director.

Workers were using backhoes, jackhammers and chain saws to clear the debris in Montecito, nearly a week after a powerful storm sent flash floods cascading through mountain slopes that were burned bare by a huge wildfire in December. At least 19 people have been killed and five others remain missing.

Eight large excavators were being used to clear the debris from Montecito Creek, Tom Fayram, the deputy director of the county’s flood control district, said.

More than 2,000 searchers and recovery workers remained in the community late Saturday, carrying out backbreaking work in the summerlike weather that has made the stretch of Santa Barbara County coast about 90 miles (145 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles a haven for the wealthy, celebrities and tourists.

The rest of the community’s infrastructure was also damaged. Some streets were cracked in half, and authorities closed bridges and overpasses because they were unstable.

Search for the missing continues

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