The number of those killed by mudslides in California was set to rise from at least 13 dead, but rescue efforts were expected to get easier yesterday after a powerful rain storm headed west and the skies cleared, the authorities said.
Firefighters slogged through mud and debris to reach 14-year-old Laura Cantin in a rescue effort that took almost six hours Tuesday in Santa Barbara County. The mudslides destroyed about 100 homes and injured 28 people.
Most of the deaths occurred in and around Montecito, a wealthy enclave of about 9,000 people northwest of Los Angeles, as homes were wiped away by mudflows after devastating wildfires left charred hillsides without vegetation cover to hold the deluge.
Officials said people in the Romero Canyon neighbourhood of Montecito were cut off after a massive debris flow blocked the road into the area. The destruction was described by Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown as looking "like a World War I battlefield". Given the scale and scope of the disaster, though, she says, that may take some time. Among the homeowners affected by the storm was the actor Jeff Bridges, who said on Twitter that his home was "severely damaged".
Mandatory evacuations had been ordered in parts of Santa Barbara County, but it is believed only 10% to 15% of residents actually heeded the warning. Tuesday morning brought rainfall accumulation of more than an inch per hour to the region, causing mudslides in areas scorched by wildfires in recent months.