National News

Rescuers Search Montecito for Mudslide Survivors as Death Toll Reaches 15

Posted January 10, 2018 9:36 a.m. EST

CARPINTERIA, Calif. — Authorities in Southern California worked through the night and into Wednesday morning to rescue residents trapped in their homes or swept away by a deluge of mud and debris unleashed by hours of heavy rain.

At least 15 people were killed and more than two dozen were injured as a vast area northwest of Los Angeles, recently scorched in the state’s largest wildfire on record, became the scene of another disaster Tuesday. Authorities said that another two dozen people were unaccounted for.

Among those who were reported missing Tuesday were the father of a boy who was swept hundreds of yards downstream, and the father of a sailor stationed in Hawaii.

The wreckage of the downpour, coming so soon after the wildfires, was not a coincidence but a direct result of the charred lands, left vulnerable to quickly forming mudslides.

In an interview with CBS on Wednesday, Sheriff Bill Brown of Santa Barbara County said that authorities were still working to identify those who could be trapped and isolated in areas that the authorities have not yet been able to reach in Montecito and other nearby areas. He said that it was not yet known how many were still trapped.

“I think most people are really shocked at the extent of the damage and how big the impact was to the area,” he said. “Although we knew that this was coming you couldn’t help but be amazed at the intensity of the storm.”

For residents and emergency workers, still weighing the devastation of the fires, Tuesday was a day of grim rituals resumed: road closings, thousands of evacuations, downed power lines, heroic rescues and a search for the dead.

Hundreds of emergency workers, many of whom had weeks earlier battled the massive fire that denuded hillsides and made the dirt so unstable, searched Tuesday for survivors with the help of Coast Guard helicopters and heavy equipment to clear blocked roads. And flooding and mudslides closed a stretch of U.S. 101, a crucial artery along the coast south from Santa Barbara, as well as portions of Interstate 110.

Late Tuesday, officials said they expected U.S. 101 to be closed at least until Thursday.

As the mud rushed into lower-lying neighborhoods in Montecito, a wealthy hillside community where many celebrities have homes, the power went out and gas lines were severed, said Thomas Tighe, a resident. Officials said Tuesday night that it could be several days before gas service would be restored. They also said power failures were affecting more than 6,000 homes and businesses in the area, adding that many parts of Montecito were without drinkable water.