17 DEAD, 13 MISSING IN CALIFORNIA MUDSLIDES
15 dead, dozens missing on heels of record fire
Search and rescue efforts intensified Wednesday for hundreds of Montecito residents feared trapped in their homes after deadly walls of mud and debris roared down California hillsides stripped of vegetation by ferocious wildfires.
The one-two punch of fire and downpour-fueled debris flows have debilitated the affluent, picturesque community of about 10,000 people. The slides have killed at least 15, destroyed an estimated 100 homes and sent rescue workers scrambling through the rubble searching for dozens who are missing.
“We have no idea where they’re at,” Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Amber Anderson said. “We think somewhere in the debris field.”
Sheriff Bill Brown said the primary focus of first responders was “to evacuate those who are trapped and need help getting out.” He said residents can shelter in place in their homes.
The county fire department tweeted a photo of a mud-encased 14-year-old girl being rescued from the rubble of a Montecito home. Fire spokesman Mike Eliason said the girl had been trapped for hours.
Scores of homes have been destroyed or severely damaged. Sheriff ’s deputies and other first responders had to cautiously pick through debris to access shattered homes.
Helicopters, rescue dogs and swiftwater rescue teams were aiding the search, which was slowed by closed roads and downed trees and power lines.
Numerous celebrities have homes in the area. Actor Rob Lowe said on social media that Oprah Winfrey’s home was
being used as a helicopter staging area.
“Mourning the dead in our little town tonight,” Lowe said. “Praying for the survivors and preparing for whatever may come. #Montecito.”
Winfrey posted a photo of mud in her backyard. “What a day!” she said, adding “Helicopters rescuing my neighbors. Looking for missing persons.”
Ellen DeGeneres tweeted a photo of the debris-strewn street and said she didn’t know the fate of her home.
“I’m heartbroken for our community of Montecito,” she wrote.
Much of the area was devastated by wildfires last month, including the iconic Thomas Fire, the largest in California history. The blaze burned more than 440 square miles.
Then, this week, it started to rain. Hillsides stripped of their vegetation by the fires were defenseless as mud, boulders and other debris swept onto roads and communities.
U.S. Highway 101, a crucial link between Ventura and Santa Barbara, was so overwhelmed that authorities announced it would remain closed until at least Monday.
The worst of the rainfall occurred in Montecito in a 15-minute span before dawn Tuesday.
“All hell broke loose,” said resident Peter Hartmann. “Power lines were down, high-voltage lines, the large aluminum poles to hold those were snapped in half.”
Kerry Mann walks past boulders at the home of a friend in Montecito, Calif., Wednesday, a day after rains caused deadly mudslides. As of Wednesday night, the death toll from the natural disaster had reached 17 and rescuers were looking for at least a dozen other people who were still missing. The slides occurred on hillsides stripped of their vegetation by wildfires last month. An estimated 100 homes have been destroyed. MIKE ELIASON/SANTA BARBARA COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT
Before U.S. 101 at the Olive Mill Road overpass was flooded with runoff water from Montecito Creek and blocked with mud and debris after heavy rains in Montecito, Calif. All the rain raised the risk of mudslides and flash flooding.