Mudslides and Flooding Kill at Least 13 in California

January 9, 2018 Updated: January 9, 2018    

LOS ANGELES–At least 13 people died and thousands fled from their homes in Southern California on Tuesday as a powerful rainstorm triggered flash floods and mudslides on slopes where a series of intense wildfires burned off protective vegetation last month.

Heavy downpours struck before dawn on Tuesday after thousands of residents in Santa Barbara County along the Pacific coast north of Los Angeles were ordered to evacuate. But only 10 to 15 percent complied with mandatory orders, said Amber Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Santa Barbara Fire Department.

Emergency workers, using search dogs and helicopters, have rescued dozens of people stranded in rubble, Anderson said.

Emergency personnel carry a woman rescued from a collapsed house after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. Jan. 9, 2018. (Kenneth Song/Santa Barbara News-Press via Reuters)

The mudslide toppled trees and demolished cars and covered blocks of quiet residential neighborhoods with a thick layer of mud, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said at a news conference.

“The best way I can describe it is it looked like a World War One battlefield,” Brown said.

A home seen surrounded by flooded water and debris after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. Jan. 9, 2018. (Kenneth Song/Santa Barbara News-Press via Reuters)

The death toll on Tuesday surpassed a California mudslide on Jan. 10, 2005, that killed 10 people as a hillside gave way in the town of La Conchita, less than 20 miles south of the latest disaster.

Emergency personnel evacuate local residents and their dogs through flooded waters after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. Jan. 9, 2018. (Kenneth Song/Santa Barbara News-Press via Reuters)

The threat of mudslides prompted the county to order 7,000 residents to leave their homes before the rains came and to urge 23,000 others to evacuate voluntarily.

The county set up an evacuation shelter at Santa Barbara City College and also gave residents a place to take their animals.

Last month’s wildfires, the largest in California history, left the area vulnerable to mudslides. The fires burned away grass and shrubs that hold the soil in place and also baked a waxy layer into the earth that prevents water from sinking deeply into the ground.

Thomas wildfire burns above Bella Vista Drive near Romero Canyon in this social media photo by Santa Barbara County Fire Department in Montecito, California, U.S. Dec. 12, 2017. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department/Handout via Reuters)

The overnight rains forced road closures, including a 30-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 101, essentially cutting off traffic between Santa Barbara and Ventura counties northwest of Los Angeles.

By Alex Dobuzinskis

 

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