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Grief mounts in Ventura County

As the death toll mounts from this week's mudslide in La Conchita, Calif., survivors wonder if they'll ever return home. NBC's George Lewis reports.

For rescue workers, it was a heartbreaking discovery Tuesday night — the bodies of Michelle Wallet and her three daughters, ages 10, 6 and 2.

Wednesday, Michelle's husband, Jimmy Wallet, and another daughter, Jasmine, waited at a police roadblock to get into town.

"He (Ventura County Sheriff Bob Brooks) wanted me to extend his appreciation to all the support people, all the rescue people and all the work that's gone into this rescue effort," Sheriff's Deputy and chaplain Ron Matthews told the media on Wednesday.

As the residents of this small, tight-knit community dealt with the grief, firefighters said they're still looking for signs of life, using high-tech video probes and searchers with specially trained rescue dogs.

Greg Ray survived the mudslide by diving underneath two parked cars.

"You heard people yelling and screaming. It was really hard to fathom that my friends right next to me were dead and I was alive," he says.

It took rescuers three hours to dig him out.

In spite of the return of dry, sunny weather, officials say the danger of mudslides here remains high. The mountain is still extremely unstable. Teams of firefighters stand by, ready to sound the warning if the mountain moves again.

This is the second deadly mudslide here in a decade. A retaining wall built after the first one, in 1995, couldn't hold back the mud this time.

"I was told that the residents knew that this was not the safest area, especially since the 1995 incident," said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

As the governor toured La Conchita Wednesday, a 35-year-resident, Karen Orrin, complained that the state should have installed terraces on the mountain.

"We were told it was too expensive," said Orrin. "We were told it couldn't be done. How much money have they spent on the rescue now for dead bodies?"

The people in La Conchita now wonder when, or even if, they will be allowed to return home, given the known dangers of living here.