Mudslides Claim 15 Lives

Montecito, S. Barbara Co, CA – At least 15 people have been killed and more than two dozen injured as a vast area northwest of Los Angeles, recently scorched in the state’s largest wildfire on record, became the scene of another disaster on Tuesday, as a driving rainstorm, the heaviest in nearly a year, triggered floods and mudslides.

Hundreds of emergency workers, many of whom had weeks earlier battled the massive Thomas fire that made the dirt so unstable, searched on Tuesday for survivors with the help of Coast Guard helicopters and heavy equipment to clear blocked roads. Firefighters rescued a 14-year-old girl who had been trapped for hours inside a destroyed home.

Mike Eliason, a spokesman for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, said that with blue skies overhead Wednesday, officials were working to clear the trees, boulders, downed power lines and detritus from people’s homes that had been swept onto the roads. Helicopters would continue to attempt rescues for those still holed up in their homes and bulldozers and loaders would be used to clear a path.

Rescue crews worked to clear debris from roads across greater Los Angeles, including a key stretch of U.S. 101 that was brought to a standstill along the border of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Power failures have affected more than 6,000 homes and businesses in the area, with that many parts of Montecito without drinkable water.

Forecasters issued flash flood warnings and predicted that the cold front with powerful winds could bring higher rain totals to downtown Los Angeles than recorded over the past 10 months. Mandatory evacuations were ordered for about 700 homes in former burn areas of Los Angeles County.

A winter weather advisory was in place for mountain areas, where officials warned motorists to prepare for difficult travel conditions, including gusty winds, low visibility, and snow-covered roads.