15 dead, dozens miss­ing on heels of record fire

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - John Ba­con USA TO­DAY

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.


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