Rescuers search for victims as California mudslide toll hits 17

Andrew Cummings
January 13, 2018

The number provided by county officials earlier in the day was eight missing.

"Rescue crews have managed to clear the roadways to free the 300 residence that have been trapped since Tuesday in Romero Canyon", Eliason added.

The mudslides and floodwaters have most affected areas in close proximity to wildfires that raged recently in Southern California, including the Thomas Fire, which has burned 281,893 acres to date.

He said that once daylight came Tuesday, "it looked like a World War I battlefield".

"We have no idea where they're at", Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Amber Anderson said of the missing people on Wednesday.

The upmarket neighbourhood includes homes owned by celebrities such as actor Rob Lowe, chat show host Ellen DeGeneres and media mogul Oprah Winfrey. "So it just takes time", Mr Stoop said.


Some homes and businesses in the area still have no power and water service.

Tuesday's mudslides in Santa Barbara County were the result of wildfires followed by a heavy storm that sent rivers of debris streaming down steep hillsides.

Search and rescue efforts have been slow as crews have had to make their way through waist-deep mud, fallen trees, boulders and other debris.

"All hell broke loose", said Peter Hartmann, a dentist who moonlights as a news photographer for the local website Noozhawk. Residents of the slide-hit area were assessing damaged homes, with some grateful that their properties survived.

Some of Montecito residents on Wednesday returned to their homes to see what they could salvage from the ruins.

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.


"We have a yard to redo and hopefully our insurance will help out with that, but the people across from me, newer homes, gone", said Garrett Speirs, a 54-year-old artist who has been living in Montecito for 20 years.

The only remnants of the homes on Olive Mill Road were the faint traces of their foundation and the neighbors that knew of them.

"I have lived here my whole life", said Melissa Ausanka-Crues, 29, a nurse.

"Steve Blum, a resident whose home is in one of the most devastated areas of Montecito, told CBS2's Jasmine Viel, "[the county] didn't give any warning to people, which was a mistake".

Many residents made a decision to stay. They then issued a county-wide alert at 3:51 a.m., when the debris flow was already starting. Because hundreds of thousands of acres were charred in the fires, the influx of water has nowhere to go.


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