Death toll reaches 15 in California mudslides; search continues
MONTECITO, California (AP):
The death toll from the mudslides that struck Southern California climbed to 15 on Wednesday as rescue crews searched for anyone trapped, injured or dead in the onslaught that smashed homes and swept away cars.
The drenching rainstorm that triggered the disaster cleared out and was no longer a hindrance as searchers made their way across a landscape strewn with boulders and covered shoulder-high in places with mud the consistency of wet cement.
"Right now our assets are focused on determining if anyone is still alive in any of those structures that have been damaged," Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said.
He said that several dozen homes were destroyed or severely damaged, and that there are probably many more in similar condition in areas still inaccessible.
At least 15 people were confirmed dead, Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Yaneris Muniz said early Wednesday as the search continued through the night.
At least 25 people were injured, 50 or more had to be rescued by helicopters, and an undetermined number of others were missing, authorities said. Four of the injured were reported in severely critical condition.
The search was set to expand with the arrival of a major search-and-rescue team from nearby Los Angeles County and help from the Coast Guard and the National Guard.
Most of the deaths occurred in and around Montecito, a wealthy enclave of about 9,000 people northwest of Los Angeles that is home to such celebrities as Oprah Winfrey, Rob Lowe and Ellen DeGeneres.
Winfrey's home survived the mudslides. In an Instagram post on the same day many Democrats were talking about her for president because of her rousing speech at the Golden Globes, she shared photos of the deep mud in her backyard and video of rescue helicopters hovering over her house.
"What a day!" Winfrey said. "Praying for our community again in Santa Barbara."
A mud-caked 14-year-old girl was among the dozens rescued on the ground Tuesday. She was pulled from a collapsed Montecito home where she had been trapped for hours.
"I thought I was dead for a minute there," the dazed girl could be heard saying on video posted by KNBC-TV before she was taken away on a stretcher.