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Thirteen people killed in Californian mudslides

The county sheriff said that he expected the death toll to increase, saying “dozens” are still missing.

California Storms The US 101 Freeway at the Olive Mill Road overpass flooded with runoff water from Montecito Creek in Montecito. Source: Mike Eliason via PA Images

Updated at 7.15am

MUDSLIDES CREATED BY a ferocious storm demolished homes in southern California and killed at least 13 people.

Authorities said the bodies were discovered in mud and debris during rescue operations in Montecito, northwest of Los Angeles.

“We are saddened to report that this incident so far has resulted in 13 confirmed fatalities, as result of the storm that came through our area last night,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told a news conference, warning that he expected the death toll to increase.

The Santa Barbara County Fire Department said on its Twitter feed it was using dogs to look for victims where multiple homes once stood in Montecito following heavy rain, with more than 20 people reported missing.

The department posted pictures of rivers of waist-high mud flowing through neighbourhoods and roads rendered impassable by fallen trees.

Deadly Mudslides Hit Southern California A man is rescued from the 101 freeway. Source: Erick Madrid via PA Images

Rescue crews used helicopters to pluck people from rooftops because debris blocked roads, and firefighters pulled a 14-year-old girl from a collapsed Montecito home where she had been trapped for hours.

“I thought I was dead for a minute there,” the girl told local station KNBC-TV.

California Storms Firefighters successfully rescue a 14-year-old girl after she was trapped for hours inside a destroyed home. Source: AP/PA Images

Most of the fatalities are believed to have occurred in Montecito, a wealthy enclave of about 9,000 people northwest of Los Angeles that is home to such celebrities as Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres.

Roads were clogged throughout the region with mudflows shutting down more than 50 kilometres of the 101 Freeway and knocking a number of homes from their foundations.

California Storms Source: Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department

Pounding rain weakened south-facing slopes above Montecito and flooded a creek, sending mud and huge boulders rolling into housing areas.

Emergency services told reporters at least “two dozen” people were missing with “several dozen” homes damaged or destroyed. They said they had rescued scores of residents, including 50 airlifted by hoist.

The highest rainfall total was recorded at five inches in Ventura County, according to the National Weather Service Los Angeles.

Much of the affected area is land scorched by the massive Thomas fire last month, where there is no vegetation to soak up the excess water.

About 275 traffic crashes were logged in the California Highway Patrol’s jurisdiction in Los Angeles County during the morning commute – compared with just 30 reported collisions during the same period on Tuesday last week.

California Storms Mud flows leaves a van stuck in the mud along La Tuna Canyon road in the Sun Valley neighbourhood of Los Angeles. Source: AP/PA Images

A evacuation order was issued in a section of the Los Angeles suburb of Burbank, which was hit by a mudslide that pulled cars out of driveways and carried them downstream.

The slide also caused a “significant” gas leak, and repair efforts left homes on the street with no gas, electricity or water.

“There were many homes, about 40 to 45 homes, affected by it, a couple homes damaged,” Burbank Fire Department Battalion Chief John Owings told local TV news channel KCAL9.

“We performed two physical rescues at approximately 7 o’clock this morning.”

At Los Angeles International Airport, flooding forced the closure of the customs area in Terminal 2.

Forecasters warned that while the rain had appeared to subside by late morning, more showers and isolated thunderstorms were expected through the evening, with periods of very heavy rain.

The storm came after a 10-month dry spell in the area following torrential rains in January and February of last year. In 2017, downtown Los Angeles experienced its driest 1 March through 31 December since 1878, with only 0.69 of an inch of rainfall, according to the National Weather Service.

© – AFP, 2018, with reporting from AP. First posted at 11pm, 9 January

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