Crews ramp up effort to rescue live victims of California mudslide

US


LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A massive influx of search and rescue crews scoured parts of California’s Santa Barbara County on Saturday for seven people still missing following mudslides that killed at least 18.

An additional 900 emergency personnel arrived in Montecito, north of Los Angeles, to join the relief effort underway by more than 2,100 personnel from local, state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy and the American Red Cross.

“They are hopeful that we will still recover live victims out there,” said Amber Anderson, public information officer for the multi-agency response team.

The ramped-up rescue effort is in response to urgent requests for additional manpower made earlier in the week.

“We need that number to effectively meet our objectives,” Anderson said. “To get people here takes time and we’re finally getting that request for influx.”

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office made a plea for information on any of the missing residents, while acknowledging that finding anyone alive would be a “miracle.”

“The missing persons were reported by family and friends, and resided in areas that were heavily damaged during the storm and subsequent mudslides,” the sheriff’s office said.

Rescue workers enter properties to look for missing persons after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. January 12, 2018. REUTERS/ Kyle Grillot

The sheriff’s office listed the names of the missing, who range in age from two to 62, in a statement on Friday night.

The disaster struck on Tuesday after heavy rains soaked the area near Montecito, where vegetation had been denuded by the largest wildfire in California’s history.

Sodden hillsides gave way, unleashing a torrent of mud, water, uprooted trees and boulders onto the valley below and causing what the police described as “traumatic injuries” to the victims, who ranged in age from 3 to 89.

The destruction covered 30 square miles, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

Officials ordered residents in most of the southeastern corner of Montecito, which is east of Santa Barbara, to leave their homes for what was likely to be one or two weeks.

One of California’s most celebrated roads, coastal Highway 101, was partially closed, with mud that was two feet deep in places, while in Montecito, mud reached the roof lines of houses, as residents surveyed their damaged homes.

“We have a yard to redo and hopefully our insurance will help out with that, but the people across from me, newer homes, gone,” Garrett Speirs, a 54-year-old artist who has been living in Montecito for 20 years, said.

“Everybody down below gone, two girls gone … Two sixth-graders in the school our kids went to,” Speirs added.

Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Montecito, California, Keith Coffman in Denver, Chris Kenning in Chicago, Gina Cherelus and Peter Szekely in New York and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Writing by Scott Malone and Jon Herskovitz; editing by Alexander Smith and Diane Craft



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