The founder of a Catholic school in Ventura was identified Wednesday as one of at least 15 people killed when a wall of mud, boudlers and debris slammed Santa Barbara County homes during the first major storm of winter in Southern California.
Roy Rohter, of Montecito, was 84 years old, according to a statement from Saint Augustine Academy, which he founded in Ventura in 1994. Rohter and his wife were swept from their home by a mud flow strong enough to move large boulders and vehicles in coastal enclave northwest of Los Angeles.
Rohter did not survive. His wife, Theresa, was rescued and is in stable condition, according to the Academy's statement.
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"Roy’s life has been in service to his good, loving and ever-forgiving God," said Michael Van Hecke, the school's headmaster. "He has done so much for so many people and pro-life and Catholic education causes. Thousands have been blessed by the Rohters' friendship and generosity.
"I will miss his infectious love of the Faith and of life, and for all things true, good and beautiful. He was a great apostle to the most important of our efforts -- education of the youth in the greatest thoughts and ideas of human history. That is why he founded, mentored and supported Catholic schools whose missions animate the ideals of the Catholic intellectual tradition. And, one last thing closest to his heart, there is one thing Roy would want from everyone -- prayers. He said so many times that after his passing, 'Make sure everyone prays for my soul.'"
The death toll from the mudslides climbed to 15 on Wednesday, with about two dozen people unaccounted for as rescue crews searched for anyone trapped, injured or dead. At least 50 hoist rescues involving helicopter crews were reported Tuesday.
The drenching rainstorm that triggered the disaster early Tuesday had cleared out as searchers made their way across a landscape strewn with boulders and covered shoulder-high in places with mud the consistency of wet cement. Aerial video Wednesday morning showed mud up to rooftops around homes, buried cars, mangled trees and boulders scattered near buildings.
A mandatory evacuation order still affects about 7,000 people. Power outages are affecting about 6,000 homes and businesses and many areas are without potable water and sanitary services.
The death toll could increase when the search is deepened and expanded Wednesday, with a major search-and-rescue team arriving from nearby Los Angeles County and help from the Coast Guard and National Guard along with law enforcement.