California mudslide: Rescuers hunt for survivors and victims

Media captionA family of five and their two dogs were rescued from the roof of their house in Santa Barbara

Hundreds of rescuers are combing through the wreckage of an area of southern California that was engulfed by mudslides.

Seventeen people are confirmed to have died after heavy rainfall hit an area of Santa Barbara county scorched by wildfires last month. Eight are missing.

Fifty-nine homes were destroyed, and another 446 were damaged.

Twelve of the 28 injured remain in hospital, four in a critical condition.

“A lot of the street signs are gone, the roads are impassable. It all has to be done on foot,” Dan Page, head of a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department rescue team, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press (AP).

Media captionResidents of Montecito went back to their homes to salvage belongings

Kelly Weimer’s parents’ home was wrecked. The elderly couple ignored a voluntary evacuation warning.

“It’s just waiting and not knowing, and the more I haven’t heard from them,” AP quoted her as saying. “We have to find them.”

Media captionOprah tours mudslide area

One man described plucking a “muddy doll” of a toddler from under several feet of debris.

Berkeley Johnson said the two-year-old girl was taken to hospital and suffered an injury to her hip.

“I don’t know how the baby survived,” Mr Berkeley told the Santa Barbara Independent newspaper.

Mr Johnson said he and his wife Karen had heard a baby crying after the flooding had subsided and they managed to climb down from the roof of their swamped home in the Montecito neighbourhood.

The pair joined a fireman to dig the toddler out, scooping mud from her mouth before she was taken to hospital.

Montecito is home to celebrities such as actor Rob Lowe, chat show host Ellen DeGeneres and media mogul Oprah Winfrey.

On Instagram, Ms Winfrey said her property had escaped the worst as she toured the scene, but described the house next door as “devastated”.

The first rain in months caused mudslides when it hit ground that had been burned by December’s huge wildfires.

After a wildfire, burned vegetation and charred soil create a water repellent layer which blocks water absorption. Together with the loss of vegetation, this leads to an increased risk of mudslides and floods.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says the risk of flooding stays “significantly higher” for up to five years after a wildfire.

“Recent burn areas will be especially vulnerable where dangerous mud and debris flows are possible,” said the National Weather Service in a statement.

Thousands had to leave their homes, many for the second time in two months. The emergency services declared an exclusion zone, saying anyone moving around the area would be in the way of rescuers and would be subject to arrest.

Those who have stayed in the area have been warned to boil their tap water before drinking it.

Heavy rain run-off caused a mudflow in Montecito, where some homes were knocked off their foundations, said Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason.

The US Coast Guard has sent “multiple airships to support rescue operations” and warned the public not to fly drones, saying it would cause the flights to be grounded.

The destruction comes after a record-setting year of $306bn (£226bn) of weather and climate-related disaster costs in the United States, with 2017 the third warmest year on record, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

California has suffered severe drought in five out of six of the past years.

In December, California Governor Jerry Brown said the state was “facing a new reality” as climate change meant wildfires could erupt “every year or every few years”.

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California mudslide: Rescuers hunt for survivors and victims

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