Southern California Mudslides: At Least 17 Dead, 100 Homes Destroyed
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 recent 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 17, destroyed an estimated 100 homes, and sent rescuers 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 of the missing people. "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 — adding that anyone moving about the area faces possible arrest.
The county fire department tweeted a photo of a mud-encased 14-year-old girl being rescued alive 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, with search efforts focused on determining if their residents survived. Sheriff deputies and other first responders had to cautiously pick through debris to access shattered homes.
Helicopters, rescue dogs and swift-water rescue teams were aiding the search, which was slowed by closed roads and downed trees and power lines.
Much of the area was devastated by recent wildfires, including the massive Thomas fire, the largest in California history. The blaze burned more than 440 square miles and more than 1,000 homes, businesses and other buildings in the area last month.
Then, this week, it started to rain. Hillsides stripped of their vegetation by the fires were defenseless as mud, boulders and other debris were swept down onto roads and communities.
U.S. Highway 101, a crucial link between Ventura and Santa Barbara, was so overwhelmed by mud and debris that authorities announced it will remain closed until at least Monday.