5 killed as mud sweeps away homes in California burn areas

Northbound traffic comes to a standstill on Interstate 5 freeway near the rushing water filled Los Angeles river near downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2018. The first significant storm of the season walloped much of California with damaging winds and thunderstorms. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

At least five people were killed and homes were swept from their foundations Tuesday as heavy rain sent mud and boulders sliding down hills stripped of vegetation by a gigantic wildfire that raged in Southern California last month.

Rescue crews used helicopters to lift people to safety because of blocked roads, and firefighters slogged through waist-high mud to pull a muck-covered 14-year-old girl out of the ruins of a home in Montecito, northwest of Los Angeles, where she had been trapped for hours. She was taken away on a stretcher.

Five bodies were found in and around Montecito, Santa Barbara County Fire Department Capt. Dave Zaniboni said.

Several houses were destroyed, and residents were unaccounted for in neighborhoods hard to reach because of downed trees and power lines, he said. The mud was reported to be 5 feet (1.5 meters) deep in places.

"We're performing multiple rescues. There will be more," Zaniboni said, adding that some of those brought to safety were buried in mud. There was a backlog of scores of callers requesting help.

Sally Brooks said a "boulder slide" occurred outside her home in nearby Carpinteria in the dead of night.

"We were laying in bed listening to the rain, and out of nowhere our bed just started shaking, and we could hear just this, like, thunder," she told KTLA-TV.

Photos posted on social media showed upside-down cars along debris-clogged roads and mud waist-deep in living rooms.

Forecasters said the maximum rainfall occurred in a 15-minute span starting at 3:30 a.m. near the Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria areas of Santa Barbara County. Montecito got more than a half-inch in five minutes, while Carpinteria received 0.86 inches in 15 minutes.

The communities are on foothills below the burn scar of a wildfire that erupted Dec. 4 and became the largest ever recorded in California. It spread over more than 440 square miles (1,140 square kilometers) and destroyed 1,063 homes and other structures. It continues to smolder deep in the wilderness.

Crews worked to clear debris from roads across the Los Angeles metropolitan area, including a key stretch of U.S. 101 that was brought to a standstill along the border of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Nearly 30 miles of the highway were shut down at one point.

The storm walloped much of the state with damaging winds and thunderstorms. Downtown San Francisco got a record 3.15 inches (8 centimeters) of rain on Monday, smashing the old mark of 2.36 inches (6 centimeters) set in 1872.

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Associated Press writers John Antczak and Andrew Dalton in Los Angeles and Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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