Horrific mudslides have continued to cause widespread devastation and chaos across Southern California, as the death toll rises to 17. Some further 28 injuries have been reported in Santa Barbara County as the mud buried homes and destroyed everything in its path.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown compared horrific scenes to that of a war zone. “It looked like a World War One battlefield,” he said at a press conference.
Dramatic scenes of desperate rescue efforts have been flooding in, with resident detailing their horrific experience of plucking a toddler from under several feet of debris. “I don’t know how the baby survived,” Berkley Johnson told the Santa Barbara Independent newspaper. He said the child looked like a “muddy doll.”
“Had we not gone over there, I don’t think that kid would have [survived],” he added.
“We ran into the house and right then the boulders busted through the house,” Johnson said of his own home in Montecito. “This was an hour of rain, and the house was gone,” he added. Authorities, already stretched by the devastating wildfires that have been engulfing many regions of California in recent months, are doing their best to rescue those trapped by the mudslides.
“We are still very much in active search-and-rescue mode,” said Chris Elms, a spokesman for Cal Fire, who warned that the death toll may still rise.
“That’s a fear. We are still very hopeful that we will locate people alive,” he added.
#CAstorm– Teresa Drenick stands in her sister’s Montecito home off Glen Oaks Ln while Sean Bornwell retrieves some personal belongings of her sisters. Her sister has been missing since early Tuesday morning. pic.twitter.com/k5uKCo65rA
— SBCFireInfo (@EliasonMike) January 10, 2018
Residents could not believe the speed at which the mud came flooding into their homes.
“Seemed like just heavy rain,” said Montecito resident Ben Hyatt, as reported by CNN. “Five minutes later, heard loud whish sound. Mud came in an instant, like a dam breaking.”
Meanwhile, chat show host Oprah Winfrey has been taking to social media to give updates on the situation:
TV personality Ellen DeGeneres also addressed the situation in Montecito, which she regards as her hometown.
“I love this community. If you’ve never been there, Montecito is a small town. It’s less than 10,000 people, it has 2 public schools, family-owned businesses. It’s a tight-knit community so everyone kind of knows everyone. I work in LA, but I consider Montecito my home. I live there, Oprah lives there,” she said, clearly emotional about the situation.
“It’s not just a wealthy community, it’s filled with a lot of different types of people from all backgrounds. And there are families missing, there are people who are missing family members,” the host continued.
“They’re finding people and bodies and I mean, you hear the word mudslide and you have no idea the impact that it has, but after the largest fire in California history, it’s catastrophic. It is beyond recognizable.”
Ellen went on to FaceTime Oprah to get an update on the mudslides, and to see how her own home was holding up.
“Where I am now, which is the east side of my property, I was walking down here and all of my neighbors’ homes are gutted. I’m standing right now still in a lot of mud but not as much as yesterday. I walked out back, you know, where we share a fence line and the neighbors out back they’re houses are gone. It’s as devastating as can be,” Oprah said as she was joined by firefighters from Ventura City County.
“It’s devastating. We’ve lost so many lives and it’s a tiny community and nobody would’ve expected, certainly, I did not, that after we survived the fire and the rain came. Who would’ve expected we have this devastation again with the mudslides, and so soon,” Oprah added.
But the award-winning host insisted that the community would pull together and rebuild their lives, piece by piece.
“But we’re going to do what we do,” she said. “We’re going to come together and we’re going to do what great Americans do all the time. We’re going to help each other. We’re going to help each other out wherever needed.”
Former West Wing star Rob Lowe is also a local to the area, and tweeted about Oprah’s willingness to help those who have been caught up in this terrible natural disaster:
Media talking about @OPRAH “maybe” running for President in 3 years. Meanwhile, AS WE SPEAK, her Montecito home’s a staging ground for helicopter rescues. Priorities? Anyone?
— Rob Lowe (@RobLowe) January 9, 2018
Lowe also shared an image of the damage in Montecito, and urged people to pray:
Some Montecito residents returned to their homes Wednesday to assess the extent of the damage.
“The house being gone, it’s just a house, it’s just some clothes and a house,” Sam Johnson told Reuters.
“But in a neighbourhood this small, every name that turns up is someone’s dad, someone’s cousin, someone’s teacher and that’s got to be the worst part of it all, I think. We’re just happy for everyone that makes it.”
Resident Josie Gower clutched to her door frame as the mud came flooding into her home. The 69-year-old woman and her boyfriend were at home Tuesday when they heard a “deep rumbling” before the sludge began to sweep through their neighborhood.
“For some reason, she opened the front door” and was swept away, said Diane Brewer, one of Gower’s friends, as reported by CNN. Gower has been confirmed among the dead.
#CAstorm– A rainbow forms above Montecito while law enforcement and the curious survey the destruction on Hot Springs Road in Montecito. Deadly overnight mudflow and debris destroyed several homes in the area. pic.twitter.com/R8wtVJ08dm
— SBCFireInfo (@EliasonMike) January 10, 2018
FEMA noted that those areas affected by wildfires are significantly more at risk of mudslides for up to five years following the blaze.
“Recent burn areas will be especially vulnerable where dangerous mud and debris flows are possible,” added the National Weather Service in a statement.
Heavy rains still increasing flood and mud flow risks. Remain aware of your surroundings & follow all emergency officials warnings & orders. pic.twitter.com/0M6ZmcQRJI
— CAL FIRE (@CAL_FIRE) January 9, 2018