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The winter storm-induced mudslides and flash flooding left 15 people reported dead, dozens injured and missing
On Jan. 9, mudslides devastated Southern California, resulting in the death of 15 people and the injury of dozens more. While officials in the counties of Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles issued mandatory evacuation orders in low-lying areas and voluntary evacuation orders in less threatened areas, many residents chose to stay in their homes. The community of Montecito, an upscale neighborhood in northern Santa Barbara, was hit the hardest by a combination of mudslides and flooding.
“Right now our assets are focused on determining if anyone is still alive in any of those structures that have been damaged,” said Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a news conference. The search efforts include local authorities, a search-and-rescue team from Los Angeles County, the Coast Guard and the National Guard. The searchers have been combing through damaged homes looking for survivors and rescuing many residents stranded on cars or rooftops by helicopter.
One 14-year-old girl was trapped for hours after her home was literally swept off its foundation by forceful mudslides. One of the dead reported was Roy Rohter, the founder of a Ventura school, who was killed when a mudslide crashed through his home, according to the New York Times. Rescue attempts are made difficult by the closure of a 30 mile stretch of the Highway 101 between Montecito and Santa Barbara. The area is currently coated in debris and mudflow.
The debris and mudslides crashed through the landscape destroying power and gas lines alike. As the region faces power outages, many parts of Montecito are left without potable water. Officials report that power failures are affecting more than 6,000 homes and business. It is unknown when power will be restored to the community.
The timing of this second natural disaster in the area rapidly following California’s largest ever recorded wildfire is no coincidence. The intense blazes from the wildfires damaged the soil’s capability to absorb water and created a prime environment for mudslides. While officials anticipated mudslides in the event of rain, the magnitude of the storm and subsequent disasters came as a surprise.