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Search Efforts Continue After California Mudslides Killed At Least 17

Rescue efforts continue in Santa Barbara County, California, as the number of missing in Tuesday's massive mudslides drops to eight while the death toll remains at 17.

Search teams are looking for people who were caught in the deluge of mud and debris that swamped houses, crumpled cars, and sent boulders careening through streets.

Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Amber Anderson said the revised number tallied Thursday follows sheriff's investigations of missing-persons reports. (Earlier reports mistakenly listed the number of missing at 48.)

At least 17 people have died as a result of the mudslides, triggered when heavy rains hit hills that were recently devastated by wildfires, Anderson told NPR.

Some people are still unaccounted for, and the death toll is expected to climb, Danielle Karson reports for NPR.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told NBC what he called "another extremely challenging day as we find out about more of our community members who were killed."

Officials say the region remains unstable due to flooding, debris flow, downed trees and power lines, leaving thousands of people without water or gas.

  • The county sheriff department on Wednesday declared a Public Safety Zone in Monecito, where most of the missing have been reported. They are asking people to "stay out of the area so that rescuers can do their job."
  • Emergency service agencies shut off natural gas to most parts of Montecito for repair. It's expected to be several days before restoration.
  • Power outages are affecting over 6,000 homes and businesses, primarily in the Montecito area.
  • There has been extensive damage to the water supply infrastructure and residents are instructed to boil water before drinking it.
  • Roads have been washed out or covered by rivers of mud that also devastated residential neighborhoods.

    Karson, reporting for NPR from Pasadena, Calif., said the mudflows above Montecito were so powerful they ripped some homes off their foundations.

    "Some rescues have been gut-wrenching: Firefighters pushed through waist-high mud to reach a 14-year-old girl caked in mud from head to toe," Karson reports. "She had been trapped for hours in a pile of wood that was once her house.

    "Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown described the devastation this way: 'It looked like a World War I battlefield. It was literally a carpet of mud and debris everywhere.' "

    More than two dozen people were injured in the mudslides, member station KCLU reports.

    "A number of houses were gutted, with rescuers pulling out people trapped under mountains of debris," KCLU's Lance Orozco wrote on Tuesday night. "Helicopters rescued some people who climbed onto the roofs of their homes to escape the torrent of water, and mud."

    More than 500 firefighters have helped with search and rescue operations, Orozco says.

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
    Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.

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