Frantic search for California mudslide survivors

Rescuers dug mud with shovels and bare hands on Tuesday in a search for survivors buried under landslides in California unleashed by almost two weeks of heavy storms that have killed at least 15 people.

The torrent of mud engulfed 20 homes in the small town of La Conchita in south-west California, where five people have been confirmed dead and authorities said 13 people are listed as missing.

Witnesses said a mudslide poured down the mountainside, carrying away houses in its path, stacking them up on each other.

“We are concerned for all the people of La Conchita,” said fire chief Bob Roper. “Fire-department efforts will continue until all missing are accounted for.”

Flash floods triggered by the storms and heavy snow have caused most of the other fatalities in recent days. Television news footage showed houses collapsing into creeks, a train passing along flooded tracks and raging rivers.

“We have at least nine dead in Los Angeles county,” said Lieutenant Ed Winter of the Los Angeles county coroner’s department.

Apart from the five dead in La Conchita, in nearby Ventura county, firefighters reported one storm death in the state capital of Sacramento.

The storms have stretched state emergency services, which searched for survivors in La Conchita and helped motorists trapped by rising flood waters, often being forced into daring rescues.

The search in La Conchita was halted briefly as heavy rain sparked fears of a new landslide.
But the storms eased for a while, allowing rescuers to dig through mud and debris with chain saws, shovels and even their hands.

Sniffer dogs and earth-moving machinery were also brought in to help.

Ventura County sheriff’s department spokesperson Eric Nishimoto said apart from the confirmed dead, 14 people were injured, two critically.

An eight-week-old baby boy was rescued twice by firefighters from a creek turned into a torrent at San Dimas in southern California.

The baby was being carried by a rescuer in an inflatable boat, which flipped over after a safety harness broke. The fireman, clutching the infant, was swept away and another firefighter had to leap into the raging waters to help them both out.

Authorities said the boy, whose family had been trapped by the floods, suffered from the cold but will survive.

The mother of a two-year-old girl who died in the floods in Palmdale on Monday may be charged with negligence, police said. The mother and girl were being rescued from their stranded car by a helicopter when the woman let go of the child, whose body was found downriver.

The mother had been driving through the flood waters with three children in her car. The other two children were saved.

At Elysian Park, near the Los Angeles Dodgers’ stadium, a homeless man died and another was injured when a hill collapsed and buried the two in their tent on Saturday.

In Malibu, on the coast, a sport utility vehicle skidded off the roadway and into the ocean, killing one and injuring four.

A 7,5m-high boulder crashed down on to one road in Topanga Canyon, Malibu, but no one was injured. Authorities blew up the huge rock in order to clear the road.

Authorities also found the body of a man who had drowned in the Tijuana river.

Hundreds of motorists have been rescued from cars caught in floods or snow that cut off the San Bernardino mountains.

Stuart Seto of the National Weather Service said the storms had broken several records in California.

The 15 days of consecutive rain seen up to Monday, which left 42,9cm of rain, beat an 80-year-old record.

The snowstorms left 200 motorists stranded in the San Bernardino mountains over the weekend while more than 18 000 residents of Los Angeles were left without power.—AFP

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