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California mudslides death toll rises with 13 still missing

13 January 2018

The cause of death for all 17 victims who perished will be listed as multiple traumatic injuries due to flash flood with mudslides, the Santa Barbara Sheriff's office said in a statement on Thursday. Authorities had reported soon after the landslide that 48 people were missing, but that figure ultimately was corrected to eight.

The death toll climbed as emergency workers pulled bodies from the river of knee-deep debris which descended on the community of Montecito and the surrounding Romero Canyon area after a torrent of rain earlier in the week.

Winfrey posted a video of herself outside her Montecito mansion wading through near-knee deep mud. This posh enclave of some 9,000 people, northwest of Los Angeles, is home to stars like Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres and Rob Lowe.

At least 17 people are now known to have been killed in the mudslides in affluent Santa Barbara County following heavy downpours this week.

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Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Joseph Bleckel had been on the missing list but still the number of people unaccounted is five. "Many chose to stay in place", said Brown.

Ben Hyatt said his Montecito home was surrounded by 2 or 3 feet of mud, and a washing machine had drifted into his front yard.

Local fire chief Anthony Buzzerio said around three quarters of the affected area has now been searched - with some rescuers falling down manholes and into swimming pools that have been covered up. "I hope that's OK", he said. Amber Anderson, a spokeswoman for the recovery effort, says their top priority is reaching those people, getting them to safety and finding the people who are still missing.

"It was literally a carpet of mud and debris everywhere, with huge boulders, rocks, down trees, power lines, wrecked cars - lots of obstacles and challenges for rescue personnel to get to homes".

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He said the zone, which includes areas formerly under voluntary evacuation advisories, would be in effect for one week but that residents should plan for two.

Another 28 injuries have been reported in Santa Barbara County following the deluge that overwhelmed an area scorched by wildfires last month.

#CAstorm- Firefighters successfully rescued a 14 yr old girl (right) after she was trapped for hours inside a destroyed home in Montecito.

The Thomas Fire - the largest wildfire in California's recorded history -burned more than 281,000 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties from early December into this month.

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In some neighborhoods still bearing the scars of the Thomas Fire, houses were completely destroyed while others nearby were untouched.

California mudslides death toll rises with 13 still missing