Search for Victims of California Mudslide Continues, 17 Dead

By Marcio Jose Sanchez and | January 11, 2018

Hundreds of searchers continued the grueling work Thursday of hunting for survivors and digging up bodies in the sea of mud and wreckage left by flash flooding in Montecito, Calif.

The death toll from Tuesday’s flash flood rose to 17 on Wednesday as more bodies were found. Another 17 were still reported missing.

Search-and-rescue teams from all over California were working their way through the muck and wreckage of Montecito, a wealthy enclave of 9,000 people northwest of Los Angeles that is home to celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey. However, the flood left it strewn with mud, boulders, wrecked cars, trashed buildings and tree limbs in a scene that Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown has compared to a World War I battlefield.

In this photo provided by Santa Barbara County Fire Department, U.S. Highway 101 at the Olive Mill Road overpass is flooded with runoff water from Montecito Creek in Montecito, Calif. on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Dozens of homes were swept away or heavily damaged Tuesday as downpours sent mud and boulders roaring down hills stripped of vegetation by a gigantic wildfire that raged in Southern California last month. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

By Wednesday, some 500 searchers had covered about 75 percent of the inundated area, authorities said.

People in Montecito had counted themselves lucky last month after the biggest wildfire in California history spared the town. But it was the fire that led to the mudslide, by burning away vegetation.

Only an estimated 10 to 15 percent of residents fled when ordered and much of the damage occurred where evacuations were voluntary.

Crews marked where bodies were found, often far away from a home, and used that information to guess where residents of a nearby home might have ended up as the surging mud carried or buried them.

Associated Press writers Amanda Lee Myers, John Antczak, Michael Balsamo, Frank Baker, Brian Melley and Andrew Dalton in Los Angeles, Alina Hartounian in Phoenix, and Aron Ranen in Montecito contributed to this report.

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