Desperate search for survivors in California mudslides

A member of the Long Beach Search and Rescue team looks for survivors in a car in Montecito

It erupted December 4 in Ventura County and destroyed more than 1,000 structures as it swept through the city of Ventura and then threatened Carpinteria, Summerland and Santa Barbara.

The rainy season had a horrendous start in Southern California, where heavy rains this week triggered deadly mudslides that killed at least 17 people. Speaking on her talk show, 'The Ellen Degeneres Show', the comedian said: "Usually, we're grateful for rain, especially in California, but not after the largest fire in the history of California".

Montecito is home to many Hollywood stars, and they were feeling the pain. A huge police presence keeps out both residents and looters. Caroline, a high school water polo star and a senior at Barnard College in NY, was killed, her uncle said. The highway, U.S. Highway 101, remains closed indefinitely.

The mudslides now cover a 30-square-mile area, and the threat of additional mudslides will continue over the next several days.

Evacuee Hannah Troy has spent three days at the Red Cross shelter in nearby Santa Barbara. The girl told rescuers she was sure she would die. I don't know. They haven't found her.

Several news accounts said that a mudslide swept Roy Rohter, who founded St. Augustine Academy in Ventura, and his wife, Theresa, from their home in Montecito early January 9.

"I think I'd like to stay out of their way", she said.

Rebecca Riskin, 61, was the founder of a luxury real estate firm, Riskin Partners, She was known in the community as the first lady of luxury real estate.

For others, the grim reality was just beginning as workmen dug through the debris.

At a news conference Friday, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown had said 53-year-old John Keating was among the missing.

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Mud fills the interior of a vehicle destroyed in a rain-driven mudslide in a neighborhood under mandatory evacuation in Burbank. "You never really know".

The youngest, 3-year-old Kailly Benitez, was one of four children killed.

"There are families missing, there are people who are missing family members", DeGeneres said.

The damage above Montecito isn't absolute.

Firefighters and other emergency officials have been walking the affected neighborhoods, searching for survivors who may be trapped in mud-filled homes. Visit the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation website for more information about this organization and how to help it provide unwanted dogs with the opportunity to become true heroes.

A few streets away, Abbe and Gary Shaw counted their blessings.

There was nothing left on the land to stop the wall of water as new video shows the mudslide's power and speed. Like many, the couple described hearing explosions during the slide as gas lines ruptured and exploded. Santa Barbara County's fire chief said nearly the entirety of Montecito, except for a small section in the southeast, were under mandatory evacuation orders as of 6 p.m. local time. While they count Oprah and Ellen as neighbors, they lamented the losses suffered by those who can ill afford it.

A series of intense wildfires tore through the region last month, destroying foliage and turning the ground into loose debris. He and his parents put belongings in three cars in case they chose to leave before the storm. At least two unrecognizably mangled cars were carried like driftwood all the way to the beach, where they were partly covered in seaweed. "What would we have done with the animals?" However, they were then forced to evacuate their home again on Sunday due to the mudslides.

Before the news conference had ended, Brown returned to the microphone, and with a happy tone said a phone call had just come in about Keating. "But we just feel lucky that we were able to get out and (are) alive".

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