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MONTECITO, CALIFORNIA — Flash floods and mudslides have killed at least 17 people and demolished a number of homes north of Los Angeles, where wildfires last month stripped the hills of trees and vegetation.
At least 17 people were unaccounted for as the search for survivors expanded Wednesday with the arrival of a large search-and-rescue team from nearby Los Angeles County along with help from the Coast Guard, the National Guard, and other law enforcement agencies.
“We have no idea where they’re at,” said Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Amber Anderson. “We think somewhere in the debris field.”
The rainstorm that triggered the mudslides early Tuesday dissipated, clearing the way for emergency responders using helicopters and dogs to rescue residents trapped inside homes or stuck in the ankle-deep muck.
Three more people were rescued from the path of debris on Wednesday.
None of the dead have been publicly identified.
“We realize that this is going to be a long and difficult journey for all of us and our community,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told reporters at a late afternoon news conference.
Residents were stunned to see their cars swept down the street by currents of brown water. Others, covered head to toe with goo, could be seen trudging through the thick mud, carrying whatever they could grab.
Police used bulldozers to push mud off a major north-south highway Tuesday, snarling the usual L.A. morning commute.
As much as 13 centimeters of rain fell in some places, triggering the mudslides that damaged more than seven square meters of land.
The December wildfires burned away hectares of brush and vegetation that would have normally soaked up heavy rainfall in the hills north of Los Angeles.
Some information for this report came from Reuters.