Health Care

Up to 43 people still missing after California mudslides; dead identified

Up to 43 people still missing after California mudslides; dead identified

"We don't know how many additional people are still trapped", Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said on CBS This Morning.

More than 30,000 homes and businesses were left without power as downed trees and power lines, as well as boulders and debris, made roads impassable.

When heavy rain falls in a short period and a fast-flowing mudslide forms, it often moves quicker than people can run.

As the floodwater gushes downhill through burned areas, it can create major erosion and pick up vast amounts of ash, mud, rocks, sand, silt and scorched vegetation like trees and shrubs. Flash floods there on Tuesday swept vast amounts of mud, water and debris down from foothills that were stripped of brush by the recent Thomas wildfire.

The force of the rushing water, mud and debris can be catastrophic.

Shocked by the damage, they took photos of their now-destroyed houses, with many describing the storm as similar to a stampede or an out-of-control train.

From the rubble of another home, firefighters rescued a 14-year-old girl who had been trapped for hours after her home collapsed.

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County sheriff officials said all the fatalities occurred in Montecito, the wealthy enclave where flash floods swept down charred hills recently devastated by wildfires. Rescue workers in helicopters and high-wheeled military vehicles, some with search dogs, were deployed in the hunt for the missing.

People in Montecito avoided the ravages of the biggest wildfire in California history last month. "There's been plenty of cases where they've found people a week after", Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason said.

Montecito and Carpinteria are especially vulnerable to mudslides because the steep terrain in some places goes from thousands of feet above sea level to sea level in just a few miles, said Tom Fayram, a deputy public works director with Santa Barbara County.

Tuesday's thunderstorms brought downpours of 13 millimetres in just five minutes in Montecito and 21 mm in 15 minutes in Carpenteria, according to the US National Weather Service. Long term, one option would be more basins to slow down storm runoff and collect debris.

The death toll climbed as AP reported that the "vast majority" of those under mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders stayed in their in upscale Montecito homes, 100 of which were subsequently destroyed.

Oprah Winfrey has shared intimate footage of the devastation caused by a Californian mudslide.