Calif.: Death toll hits 17 in mudslides; 13 missing


MONTECITO, Calif. (AP) — Anxious family members awaited word on loved ones today as rescue crews searched for more than a dozen people missing after mudslides in Southern California destroyed an estimated 100 houses, swept away cars and left at least 17 victims dead.

"It's just waiting and not knowing, and the more I haven't heard from them – we have to find them," said Kelly Weimer, whose elderly parents' home was wrecked by the torrent of mud, trees and boulders that flowed down a fire-scarred mountain and slammed into this coastal town in Santa Barbara County early Tuesday.

The drenching storm that triggered the disaster had cleared out, giving way to sunny skies, as hundreds of searchers carefully combed a landscape strewn with hazards.

"We've gotten multiple reports of rescuers falling through manholes that were covered with mud, swimming pools that were covered up with mud," said Anthony Buzzerio, a Los Angeles County fire battalion chief. "The mud is acting like a candy shell on ice cream. It's crusty on top but soft underneath, so we're having to be very careful."

Buzzerio led a team of 14 firefighters and six dogs in thick debris. They used long-handled tools to search the muck in the painstaking task.

Teams rescued three people today, but they also discovered two more bodies, raising the death count to 17, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said. Thirteen people were missing.

The deluge destroyed 100 houses and damaged 300 others, Santa Barbara County authorities said. Eight commercial properties were destroyed and 20 damaged.

Some 500 firefighters and other rescue workers were searching debris spread across a wide swath of Montecito, a wealthy enclave of about 9,000 people northwest of Los Angeles that is home to celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Rob Lowe and Ellen DeGeneres.

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