13 Killed in California Mudslide

The number of those killed was expected to rise but rescue efforts would become easier on Wednesday.The number of those killed was expected to rise but rescue efforts would become easier on Wednesday.

Mudslides, boulders and tons of debris killed at least 13 people on Tuesday in communities along California’s scenic coastline ravaged by a series of intense wildfires that burned off protective vegetation last month.

The number of those killed was expected to rise but rescue efforts would become easier on Wednesday after the powerful rain storm heads west and skies clear, authorities said.

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 or urged to do so voluntarily, some of them for a second time since December, Reuters reported.

Emergency workers using search dogs and helicopters rescued dozens of people stranded in mud-coated rubble in the normally pristine area, sandwiched between the ocean and the sprawling Los Padres National Forest, about 110 miles north of Los Angeles.

The upscale communities of Montecito and Carpenteria, just outside the city of Santa Barbara, were hardest hit.

The mudslides toppled trees, demolished cars and covered blocks of quiet residential neighborhoods with a thick layer of mud, blocking Highway 101, a major north-south route along the coast.

“The best way I can describe it is: It looked like a World War One battlefield,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said at a news conference.

"The death toll could rise, with rescue workers still picking through dozens of damaged and demolished homes in the search for survivors."

Fatalities and Evacuation

At one point on Tuesday, at least two dozen people were missing, but Brown said later in the day that it was not clear how many had been located.

"About 300 people were stranded in a canyon. Local officials, using borrowed helicopters from the US Coastguard, were working to airlift them out," Brown said.

The number of fatalities surpassed the death toll from a California mudslide on Jan. 10 when 10 people were killed as a hillside gave way in the town of La Conchita, less than 32 km south of the latest disaster.

The threat of mudslides had prompted the county to order 7,000 residents to leave their homes ahead of a powerful rainstorm and to urge 23,000 others to evacuate voluntarily.

"The mudslides swept through both the mandatory evacuation zones and areas where people were urged to voluntarily leave," Brown said.

In response to questions of why some places were not part of the mandatory evacuation zone, Brown said it was not possible “in a situation like this to define to the house or to the block or to the neighborhood” where a mudslide might occur.

The county set up an evacuation shelter at Santa Barbara City College, where some people showed up drenched in mud and also provided a place for people 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.

Some local residents had to flee their homes due to the fires last month and again this week because of the rains.

Some areas of Santa Barbara County early on Tuesday were pounded with more than a half inch of rain in five minutes, a rate that far exceeds the normal flash flood threshold, officials said.

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