California storm, mudslides death toll at 15 as search for survivors continues

Elias Hubbard
January 13, 2018

Santa Barbara County Sheriff confirmed the number of fatalities and said search-and-rescue efforts were underway in Santa Barbara County to locate people who may be alive and trapped.

Officials said numerous deaths are believed to be in the coastal Montecito area that is home to a number of celebrities, CNN reported.

"We've gotten multiple reports of rescuers falling through manholes that were covered with mud, swimming pools that were covered up with mud", said Anthony Buzzerio, a Los Angeles County fire battalion chief.

Nearly the entire community, about 10,000 people, are under a mandatory evacuation order that could last for up to two weeks, Santa Barbara County's fire chief said.

Experts anxious about mudslides in the aftermath of the Thomas fire, which incinerated more than 280,000 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

Dozens of stranded residents have been rescued by helicopter in areas of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties - some from their vehicles and others from rooftops.

Most of the devastation has occurred in and around Montecito, a wealthy enclave of about 9,000 people northwest of Los Angeles that is home to such celebrities as Winfrey, Rob Lowe and Ellen DeGeneres.

The New York Times is reporting that "the Santa Barbara fire department pulled a 14-year-old girl from the remains of her destroyed home in Montecito".

Homes were also swept from their foundations on Tuesday, as heavy rains sent mud and boulders sliding down hills stripped of vegetation by California's recent wildfires.

Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Amber Anderson said Wednesday two dozen people remained missing. Areas affected by fires of less able to absorb water, which makes flooding worse. "It was literally a carpet of mud and debris everywhere, with huge boulders, rocks, down trees, power lines, wrecked cars - lots of obstacles and challenges for rescue personnel to get to homes", he said.

People in Montecito avoided the ravages of the biggest wildfire in California history last month. An evacuation center was set up at the Santa Barbara City College Campus Gymnasium.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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