17 killed in California mudslides

Residents fill sandbags in advance of a powerful storm expected to hit Santa Barbara County on Monday night and Tuesday. Mandatory evacuations have been ordered effective at noon Monday for areas below the Thomas and Whittier burn areas

17 killed in California mudslides

Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Amber Anderson said Wednesday two dozen people remained missing.

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.

The Los Angeles Times noted that rescue teams have been forced to use helicopters because many roads in the area are impassable.

Access to some areas has been hard for emergency crews because of downed trees and power lines, according to County Fire.

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.

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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.

The Santa Barbara County sheriff said emergency dispatchers received about 600 calls immediately after the rains began early Tuesday.

Flooding and debris flows closed U.S. 101 in the Thomas Fire burn area, located north of Ventura and south of Santa Barbara, according to California Department of Transportation.

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.

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