Hope for More Rescues as Death Toll Rises in Montecito Mudslides

Montecito mudslides (Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department / Associated Press)
Mike Eliason / Santa Barbara County Fire Department / Associated Press

The death toll in the mudslides in Montecito, California, rose to 17 on Wednesday, with over a dozen people still considered missing as rescue crews rushed to save those still trapped by the debris.

Local ABC News affiliate KABC 7 reported that 100 homes were destroyed and 300 damaged by the mudslides, which began early Tuesday, while many residents were asleep.

Southern California Public Radio reported that “only an estimated 10 to 15 percent of people in a mandatory evacuation area of Santa Barbara County heeded the warning,” though the disaster primarily struck an area that was not under mandatory evacuation.

Other parts of Santa Barbara County had been evacuated due to the threat of mudslides in the heavy rains that struck the region Monday and Tuesday in the wake of the Thomas fire, the state’s largest ever.

“In addition to the fatalities, 28 people were reported to be injured. About 100 homes were destroyed and 300 others were damaged, according to Santa Barbara County fire officials,” KABC 7 reported on Wednesday, noting that 500 search-and-rescue workers and 10 dogs were involved in the search for survivors.

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

Power, water, and gas are unavailable in the area, sending Montecito into the “Stone Age,” the Times notes. An area above Montecito called Romero Canyon has been cut off completely from the outside world, and rescue teams are trying to evacuate several hundred residents trapped there. KABC 7 notes that locals are being advised to boil their water.

Rescue work is hazardous because the mud obscures many obstacles, the Associated Press reports:

“We’ve gotten multiple reports of rescuers falling through manholes that were covered with mud, swimming pools that were covered up with mud,” said Anthony Buzzerio, a Los Angeles County fire battalion chief. “The mud is acting like a candy shell on ice cream. It’s crusty on top but soft underneath, so we’re having to be very careful.”

Many celebrities have homes in the picturesque area, which lies between the mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Oprah Winfrey visited her home, which was in the path of the mudslides, and posted video of the damage to social media.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named to Forward’s 50 “most influential” Jews in 2017. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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