17 dead, 17 missing after flooding and mudslides force thousands to flee in California

15 dead after flooding and mudslides force thousands to flee in California (Wakabia News)
At least 17 people are dead, 17 are missing and more than two dozen are injured in California from weather-related incidents, Santa Barbara County officials said Wednesday. The southern part of the state has been drenched with severe rain just weeks after several fires tore through the area.

Flash flooding, debris flow and mudslides are punishing the communities hit hard by the Thomas and La Tuna fires, prompting "dozens and dozens" of rescues on the ground, a spokesperson from the Santa Barbara County Fire Department told Wakabia News.

Many more are feared to be dead and buried beneath the mud. At least 17 people have been reported missing, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Wednesday.

More than 500 first responders and 10 dogs are working on the search-and-rescue efforts in the region, focusing on a list of missing people and their addresses, fire officials said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

Hundreds of people have already been rescued, many of whom had to be hoisted out of the mud-filled area by aircraft, Brown said.

Among those killed was Roy Rohter, the founder of the St. Augustine Academy in Ventura, according to the Catholic school's headmaster, Michael Van Hecke.

A mudslide swept Rohter and his wife, Theresa Rohter, out of their home in Montecito. Rohter's wife was rescued and hospitalized in stable condition, but Roy Rohter did not survive, Hecke told Wakabia News.

"Roy’s life has been in service to his good, loving and ever-forgiving God," Hecke, a close friend of the Rohters, said in a statement. "Thousands have been blessed by the Rohters’ friendship and generosity."

Loved ones spent time Wednesday desperately searching for a Montecito resident who they believe was swept away from the mudslides.

The woman had tried to escape the mudslides with a friend, who was rescued near her home in mud up to his neck near her home, longtime friend Doug Scott told Wakabia News. Scott said she had gone downstairs when she heard rumbling, and the pair were both swept away.

The woman's son, confirmed to Wakabia News that her body was found Wednesday afternoon.

Among the missing were sisters Sawyer Corey, 12, and Morgan Corey, 25, family members confirmed to Wakabia News. A third sister and the girls' mother are currently being treated in the ICU, the family said.

Montecito alone saw heavy rainfall in a short amount of time. About a third of the rain that has fallen in the last 24 hours in Montecito happened in just five minutes, according to the National Weather Service.

Because hundreds of thousands of acres were charred in the fires, the influx of water has nowhere to go.

Some homes in Montecito's affluent community have been ripped from their foundations as a result of the torrential conditions. About 100 homes have been destroyed and another 300 were damaged, county officials said.

Aerial footage over Montecito showed a contrast of widespread damage next to homes completely untouched by the disaster. The roofs of some homes in canyon runoff areas were encased in mud, which has now dried.

The Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management said Tuesday night the city of Montecito would be without potable water, electricity and sanitation "for an extended period of time."

Local fire officials reported rescuing several people in the area, including a mother and her daughter who were caked in mud. About two dozen people in Santa Barbara County are unaccounted for, officials said.

The Claffey family in Carpinteria was forced to evacuate its home last month. After moving back in, family members were told to evacuate again because of the rain.

"If our house was flooded it would be devastating. Absolutely devastating," Maureen Claffey told Wakabia News.

Another family told Wakabia News that they witnessed neighbors floating away from their homes on mattresses and others holding on to trees for hours in a whirlpool of frigid mud

The record rains started coming down on Monday, soaking northern cities like San Francisco and Sacramento. First responders put on skies to help the stranded since many roads and thruways have become raging rivers.

Rainfall totals on Tuesday afternoon ranged from 3 to 5 inches in the mountains in Ventura County and 2 to 3 inches in the mountains of Santa Barbara County, with higher totals within the areas burned by the Thomas fire in both counties.

Rainfall rates exceeding 1 inch per hour at times contributed to the damaging mudslides in portions of Southern California.

The weather has snarled drivers and first responders attempting to aid storm victims.

Routes in and out of Santa Barbara have been shut down from the south, and various roadways have been swallowed by the floods.

The only way into some of the washed-out homes is by air.

Ventura's Air Squad 6 dedicated helicopters to join Santa Barbara in the rescue effort.

Officials told Wakabia News they’ve been called to locations but they’re also stuck like thousands of motorists.

Excessive flooding and debris made some parts of Santa Barbara impassable.

Stranded drivers caught up in the rising water levels were being plucked from their vehicles to safer, dryer ground by emergency personnel relying on mostly aviation transportation.

The Santa Barbara County Fire Department released photos of U.S. Route 101 that was flooded with runoff water from Montecito Creek. Debris and mudflow blocked the railway for the main line of the Union Pacific Railroad through Montecito.

Highway 101 has been closed in both directions due to the mud, Santa Barbara County officials said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon. It will be closed until midday Monday.

And in creeks and other waterways, the treacherous floodwaters were moving at around 15 mph.

An additional 1 to 2 feet of snow is expected in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
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