California

15 dead, death toll expected to rise as rescuers continue search after Montecito mudslide

Video shows devastation from mudslides, flooding

Heavy rains triggered freeway closures throughout Southern California and unleashed mudflows in areas ravaged by wildfires. At least five people died as rescue personnel scrambled through clogged roadways and downed trees and houses.
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Heavy rains triggered freeway closures throughout Southern California and unleashed mudflows in areas ravaged by wildfires. At least five people died as rescue personnel scrambled through clogged roadways and downed trees and houses.

Update Wednesday, 6:30 a.m.

The Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office confirmed Wednesday morning that 15 people have died. Go here for Wednesday’s updates.

Update, 9:10 p.m.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office declared a “public safety exclusion zone” for Montecito shortly before 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Officials are asking the public to stay out of the area west of Sheffield Drive/East Valley Road/Ladera Lane, east of Olive Mill/Hot Springs Road, north of the ocean and south of the US Forest Service boundary.

Original story

At least 13 people were killed and dozens more were injured early Tuesday morning after a heavy rainstorm propelled mud and debris through Montecito in Santa Barbara County.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said authorities expect the number of dead to increase. At least two dozen people are missing or otherwise unaccounted for, but Brown said officials were not able to provide a list of the missing, stating that the process is “dynamic.”

He said that once daylight came Tuesday, “it looked like a World War I battlefield.”

Meanwhile, on Tuesday afternoon, about 300 people remained trapped in Romero Canyon, authorities said.

“They are otherwise safe but unable to get in or out,” Brown said. “We are in the process of mounting an evacuation to get them out.”

Brown, who spoke during an afternoon news conference, said the area hit hard by mudslides and flooding is an “active rescue area” and asked anyone who doesn’t need to be there to stay away.

“We have an inordinate number of people in the area come to take a look, and they’re impeding operations that are occurring out there,” Brown said, adding that deputies would enforce a law that states any unauthorized person who enters a closed emergency area is committing a misdemeanor crime.

Brown noted that the presence of debris, large rocks, downed trees and power lines, and cars — as well as “knee-deep” mud on the roads — have made accessing the trouble areas difficult. He added that there was flooding and mudslides in both mandatory and voluntary evacuation zones.

Highway 101 through Montecito is expected to remain closed until Thursday night because of the severe damage caused by flooding and mudslides, according to an update from Caltrans.

Mudslides and debris flows from intense storms that hit Santa Barbara County buried Highway 101 on Tuesday, January 9, 2018. The highway is expected to be closed for days because of the severe damage. This video was taken at the Olive Mill Road ov

Capt. Cindy Pontes of the Santa Barbara division of the California Highway Patrol said that northbound Highway 101 was shut down in Ventura County at Highway 126 and again at Seacliff. In Santa Barbara County, southbound Highway 101 is shut down at Milpas Street.

“Honestly, we don’t know,” Pontes said in regards to when Highway 101 will reopen. “We’re hoping for 48 hours, but it could be longer.”

Pontes said there was a water main break Tuesday at Olive Mill Road that flooded the freeway and water and debris is still coming down onto 101.

Dave Zaniboni, the public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, called the amount of rainfall in the area “unprecedented,” with quick downpours that occurred in less than 30 minutes early Tuesday morning causing mudslides.

At about 4 a.m., there was “a catastrophic debris flow” between Cold Springs Canyon and Toro Canyon with portions of the flow reaching down to Highway 101, said Kevin Taylor, the deputy fire chief for the Montecito Fire Department.

“We are currently in search-and- rescue mode and have completed approximately 50 hoist rescues and several dozen contact rescues,” Taylor said.

SoCalGas also planned to temporarily turn off natural gas service to about 3,500 homes and businesses in specific areas identified by Santa Barbara County Fire.

The Santa Barbara County Fire Department rescued a 14-year-old girl who had been trapped for hours in a destroyed home on the 300 block of Hot Springs Road in Montecito, after an intense California storm pummeled the area with rain, flooding and m

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