Search goes on for Calif. mudslide victims; death toll at 17

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He cautioned that it was unclear how many of those persons were "actively missing".

None of those killed have been publicly identified yet, with Santa Barbara's County Sheriff Bill Brown telling reporters: "We realise this is going to be a long and hard journey for all of us and our community". Three people were rescued on Wednesday.

"We've been told that this was going to happen to us, but we got 3 feet of mud outside of our house - kind of blocked our gate and garage, so we couldn't do anything", Barati said. They are in a tough spot and we are close.

The air smelled of sewage and ash as more than a dozen firefighters climbed through rubble in the backyard of a mansion that had been torn apart. Two black Labrador retrievers swam around a debris-filled swimming pool, trying to pick up any scent.

"We are heartbroken over the loss of lives in our community", Bridges tweeted. "You never really know".

Longtime friend Doug Scott told ABC News that Gower and another friend were on the second floor of her home but ventured downstairs when they heard rumbling.

Hundreds of firefighters and others are hunting through the mud and wreckage.

The heavy rain was falling in areas charred by recent wildfires, triggering fears of flash flooding and mudslides because vegetation that otherwise would hold hills together and make the terrain flood-resistant have burned away.

Jeff Gater, Santa Barbara County's emergency manager, told the Los Angeles Times the county did not use the cellphone alert system out of concern that it might not be taken seriously.


As the rainwater made its way downhill with gathering force, it pried boulders from the ground and picked up trees and other debris that flattened homes, cars and carried at least one body a mile away.

Roads have been washed out or covered by rivers of mud that also devastated residential neighborhoods.

Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Yaneris Muniz (MYOO'-nihz) confirms two more deaths, in addition to those reported in the hours after a storm dumped a huge amount of rain on the community in a brief period of time early Tuesday.

The number of confirmed deaths from flooding and mudslides in California stands at 17, with U.S. authorities stepping up their search for at least 20 missing persons. "That doesn't mean they all are missing but we are actively looking at whether they are missing", the sheriff said. "That's a insane mistake to make".

"Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown described the devastation this way: 'It looked like a World War I battlefield". But the area where homes were destroyed, south of Highway 192, was not in a mandatory evacuation zone.

Heavy rains pre-dawn on Tuesday had sent rivers of mud tumbling down hillsides destroying 100 homes and killing 17. Overall, 28 people were injured.

Twenty people remained hospitalized, four in critical condition.

A baby girl who was buried under dirt and rocks after deadly mudslides tore through California was rescued by a local man who miraculously heard her cries in the dark and pulled her out of the muck, officials said. Jim had celebrated his 89th birthday on Monday. The fatality figure could increase as at least two dozen people were considered still missing as search-and-rescue efforts continued.

The flow was so powerful it swept several homes off their foundations, crushed others and wrapped cars around trees. Where my roots were placed, where my mother raised me and my family. "Windows went flying, doors went flying".

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