After a nearly two week closure, the coastal California highway swamped by deadly mudslides will be open again on Monday in time for morning commuters.
Traffic began moving again on U.S. 101 in Santa Barbara County shortly after noon on Sunday, state officials said. The main travel artery connecting Ventura and Santa Barbara counties has been closed since Jan. 9, when the highway's lanes were inundated in Montecito.
At least 21 people were killed and hundreds of homes were destroyed or damaged in the mudslide that followed wildfires last month.
Another victim of the mudslides was discovered on Saturday, bringing the total death toll to 21.
The body of 28-year-old Fabiola Benitez was located about 10 a.m. Saturday in Montecito by a dog team, the Associated Press reported.
"The Sheriff’s Office wants to express our deepest condolences to the Benitez family, who were already mourning the loss of Faviola’s 10-year-old son, Jonathan Benitez and his cousin 3-year-old Kailly Benitez, as well as Kailly’s mother, 27-year-old Marilyn Ramos," the office of Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown said in a statement.
Heavy rain pounded the Thomas Fire burn scar during the early hours of Jan. 9. Soil hardened by the heat repelled water and sent mud, debris and giant boulders tumbling from the mountains above the community of 10,000 people.
Two more victims, a 17-year-old boy and 2-year-old girl, remain missing.
Although a new storm is forecast to hit the West Coast later this week, the heaviest rain is forecast to fall in northern California, Oregon and Washington.
Only a 30% chance of showers are forecast in the Santa Barbara area Thursday, the National Weather Service said.
However, a pattern shift later in the month may steer storms more directly into the southern California coast, according to AccuWeather.
“The next chance of any significant rain is during the week of Jan. 28 to Feb. 3,” said AccuWeather long-range meteorologist Evan Duffey.
Residents should remain alert since even one isolated, soaking rainfall can lead to a devastating mudslide event, Duffey added.
Contributing: Gretchen Wenner, The Ventura County Star; The Associated Press
Contributing: Associated Press, Greg Toppo, USA TODAY