At least 13 people dead in California mudslide

More than 160 people were taken to hospital as mud and boulders slid down hills stripped of vegetation by recent wildfires which hit California in recent weeks

(Photo: The Guardian)
(Photo: The Guardian)

At least 13 people were killed amid “waist-deep” mudslides in Southern California, where heavy rains triggered flooding, officials said.

Around 163 people have been taken to hospital, with 20 people having “storm-related injuries” and four who were critically injured.

Homes were also swept from their foundations on Tuesday, as heavy rains sent mud and boulders sliding down hills stripped of vegetation by California’s recent wildfires.

Rescue crews used helicopters to life people to safety due to blocked roads. Firefighters struggled through the mud to pull a muck-covered 14-year-old girl out of the ruinds of a home in Montecito, norrthwest of Los Angeles.

A group of up to 300 people are also reportedly trapped in Romero Canyon, east of Santa Barbara.

Police said the scene "looked like a World War One battlefield".

Emergency services said a number of people were unaccounted for and they expected the number of deaths to rise. The mud was reported to be up to 5ft deep in places.

After a wildfire, burned vegetation and charred soil created a water repellent layer which blocked water absorption and led to an increased risk of mudslides and floods.

County Fire Captain Dave Zaniboni said that five people were found dead on Tuesday in Montecito and may have been killed as result of the storm.

 Montecito is a wealthy enclave that is home to such celebrities as Oprah Winfrey, Rob Lowe and Ellen DeGeneres, said Santa Barbara County spokesman David Villalobos. 

 “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.

The US Coast Guard has sent "multiple airships to support rescue operations" and warned the public not to fly drones, otherwise the flights would be grounded.

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.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency shared a warning for California homeowners explaining that homes that had never flooded before were now at risk.

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