Published: Sat, January 13, 2018
Global Media | By Abel Hampton

California mudslides: Death toll rises to 17

California mudslides: Death toll rises to 17

Los Angeles County firefighters prepare to investigate a home after being alerted by a cadaver dog on a pile of debris from a mudslide on January 11, 2018, in Montecito. They had a long slog ahead, filled with hazards seen and unseen.

At least 17 people have been killed in the mudslides and authorities are fearing that number could rise as responders search for more victims.

The couple did not heed a voluntary evacuation warning and stayed home to celebrate Jim Mitchell's 89th birthday. A huge police presence keeps out both residents and looters. Caltrans announced that Highway 101, which is still a muddy river, will remain closed until midday Monday.

Cal Fire puts the affected area at 30 square miles.

Dr. Mark Montgomery was a member of the Santa Barbara College Hospital medical staff.

"I thought I was dead for a minute", the dazed girl, covered in mud, told firefighters before she was taken away in an ambulance. Best to give workers a chance to clear the roads up, she said. "It's emotional for me to say this, but I think they're gone".

There were firefighters on her street, and they told Troy to wait inside while they evacuated the elderly and infirm from the neighborhood.

For others, the grim reality was just beginning as workmen dug through the debris.

"We were ramped up for the weather here and we used those ramped up resources down there", Santa Maria City Manager Jason Stilwell said of sending Santa Maria resources. But he confessed: "The likelihood is increasing that we'll be finding bodies, not survivors".

"You never really know".

After the Storm Destruction in Montecito
After the Storm Destruction in Southern California Toni Guinyard KNBC-TV

The grueling search efforts following mudslides in Southern California will enter a fourth day Friday, with authorities scouring piles of debris again as the window to find survivors narrows.

Three more people were rescued from the path of debris on Wednesday.

In one of the hardest hit areas, the affluent seaside community of Montecito, the devastation wrought by the slide and the gruesome undertaking faced by emergency crews was evident.

Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Amber Anderson said helicopters are being used for rescues because roads are blocked by downed trees and power least 50 helicopter hoist rescues were reported by midday.

"We have a lot of clues and indications as to who people are; we have to get this right", Brown said, adding the identities of the deceased will be released sometime in the future. Cars and other belongings were left behind, swamped under knee-deep mud.

They also say the mudslides destroyed more than 70 buildings and damaged about 470. Atkinson said they've been using pool water for their toilets and to shave.

The last embers were barely extinguished when the rains came.

"If I'd have known how bad it was, we might have been scared", Abbe Shaw said. The two had traveled to Italy for five weeks with Josie's children previous year. "What would we have done with the animals?" While the work continued, Montecito residents watched with frustration. The mudslides began raindrops on top of hillsides in the Los Padres National Forest and then gained momentum as they tore downhill through the neighborhoods, picking up ash, dirt and debris along the way.

"These were people that were sheltered in place that had needs that just took a while to get to some of them", Pitney said. "We've got all those chickens, which means we've got eggs, and they're ideal". One of her doctors, the leader of her children's scout group and a former neighbor were among the dead.

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