MONTECITO: At least 13 people were killed and dozens of homes were swept away or heavily damaged as downpours sent mud and boulders roaring down hills stripped of vegetation by a gigantic wildfire that raged in Southern California last month.
Helicopters were used to pluck more than 50 people from rooftops because downed trees and power lines blocked roads, and dozens more were rescued on the ground, including a mud-caked 14-year-old girl pulled from a collapsed Montecito home where she had been trapped for hours.
Most deaths were 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, Rob Lowe and Ellen DeGeneres, said Santa Barbara County spokesman David Villalobos.
Twenty people were hospitalized and four were described as “severely critical” by Dr. Brett Wilson of Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
An unknown number were unaccounted for and authorities were trying to determine if they were missing or just hadn’t contacted family members.
The search for survivors continued into the evening, though Wilson noted that their conditions would deteriorate if they got wet.
The mud was unleashed in the dead of night by flash flooding in the steep, fire-scarred Santa Ynez Mountains. Burned-over zones are especially susceptible to destructive mudslides because scorched earth doesn’t absorb water well and the land is easily eroded when there are no shrubs.
The torrent arrived suddenly and with a sound some likened to a freight train as water carrying rocks and trees washed away cars and trashed homes, smashing some into piles of lumber and filling others waist-deep in mud. -TNS