Death toll rises to 17 in California mudslides


Associated Press

MONTECITO, Calif.

Anxious family members awaited word on loved ones Wednesday as rescue crews searched for two 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 searchers worked carefully in 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.”

Seventeen people were confirmed dead and two dozen people remained missing, said Amber Anderson, a Santa Barbara County spokeswoman.

“We have no idea where they’re at. We think somewhere in the debris field,” she said.

A dozen people remained hospitalized, four in critical condition.

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