(Photo: The New York Times)
Rescue crews used helicopters to lift people to safety because of blocked roads, and firefighters slogged through waist-high mud to pull a muck-covered 14-year-old girl out of the ruins of a home in Montecito, northwest of Los Angeles, where she had been trapped for hours. She was taken away on a stretcher.
At least two dozen people were unaccounted for and authorities rescued at least 50 people in the Montecito area.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the death toll could rise. Officials said many of the deaths are believed to be in the coastal Montecito area, where mud-flows and floodwater have inundated areas downstream from where the Thomas Fire burned thousands of acres last month.
The Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department is working toward determining whether those “missing” were accounted for in other locations or among those who are deceased.
About 300 people were stranded in a canyon. Local officials, using borrowed helicopters from the US Coast Guard, were working to airlift them out, Brown said.
The threat of mudslides had prompted the county to order 7,000 residents to leave their homes ahead of a powerful rainstorm and to urge 23,000 others to evacuate voluntarily.
Mudslides such as this one cause between 25 and 50 deaths per year in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most often people die from the fast-moving water and debris that can cause trauma, injuries from broken electrical, water, gas and sewage lines, and blocked roads that can put drivers in danger and keep people from accessing a hospital if injured./.