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Bay Area Firefighters Return to Southern California to Aid in Mudslide Rescues

14 January 2018

At least 18 people were killed and at least five are still missing in the devastating mudslides plaguing Southern California, local authorities said Friday.

The 17 victims range in age from 3 to 89, all residents of the scenic coastal community northwest of Los Angeles.

"There is always hope", Brown said, though he added that every hour that passes makes finding new survivors less likely.

"When the storm finally hit, the National Weather Service put out a WEA alert, which is similar to an Amber Alert, saying that flash flooding was imminent", said Robert Lewin, director of Santa Barbara County's Office of Emergency Management.

They happened when water that would have otherwise been absorbed or at least slowed by vegetation instead instantly ran down creeks and other drainage areas, picking up soil, rocks, trees - and potentially growing powerful enough to carry massive boulders and vehicles.

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For truckers driving south, the San Paso Truck Stop at the Wellsona Road-Highway 101 intersection is one of the last waystations before they would need to exit Highway 101. Twenty-eight people were injured and as many as 43 are still missing.

The youngest, 3-year-old Kailly Benitez, was one of four children killed. Her 12-year-old sister, Sawyer, previously died in the perilous conditions.

Sheriff Bill Brown gave the larger number Thursday but cautioned that many or most of those people may simply have been unreachable to the family and friends who reported they couldn't find them.

Marveling at the scale of destruction, several firefighters wondered aloud how some areas would ever get back to normal because there's just so much mud covering the ground, never mind the damage to homes and other buildings. That includes Summerland and Carpinteria.

Despite his home filled with water and mud, Farrell and his family found solace in the home's hallway.

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"We've gotten multiple reports of rescuers falling through manholes that were covered with mud, swimming pools that were covered up with mud", said Anthony Buzzerio, a Los Angeles County fire battalion chief.

From an aerial view, the community that is home for celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Jeff Bridges looked like two vastly different places.

"This house is across the street now so we have to search these piles where people could've potentially floated into", he said. "But they're talking two weeks of closure". The Thomas Fire - the 282,000-acre monster blaze that burned an area the size of Dallas and Miami combined - is still burning, listed at 92% contained by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

She said she and her wife, Portia de Rossi, had to evacuate their home on Sunday, just 10 days after returning from a previous evacuation for wildfires.

"As it stands, we're still having to go in on foot in many areas", he said.

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"We walked away very confident in the way the fire was put to bed", said Marin County Fire Battalion Chief Bret McTigue, who's leading a 30-member team that arrived in Montecito Thursday morning.

Bay Area Firefighters Return to Southern California to Aid in Mudslide Rescues