At least 15 people have been killed, with the death toll expected to rise, after heavy rains caused a violent mudslide exacerbated by recent wildfire damage
The mud cascaded down scorched, blackened slopes still blanketed with ash. With no trees or vegetation to slow the surge it swept rocks and boulders from the Verdugo mountains into a thunderous river.
Jeannette Abney, 88, watched in horror not believing slopes could so quickly turn to sludge and so quickly surround her home in La Tuna canyon.
Oh God, the rain was terrible, terrible. Outside it was like a war zone, like Niagara Falls. It pushed my big truck 60ft across the road. It sounded like a freight train. Ive never experienced anything like that.
Abney escaped Tuesdays mudslide in this rural corner of Los Angeles with her two dogs and spoke on Wednesday from an American Red Cross evacuation center. It offered cots, blankets, food and instant coffee. A cool breeze flapped posters declaring disaster services.
Swaths of southern California are in need after natures latest battering, this time in the form of heavy rains which unleashed massive debris flows, a grim sequel to a record drought and record wildfires.
At least 17 people died, mostly in Montecito, a wealthy enclave north-west of LA. The avalanche buried homes and swept others from their foundations, which in addition to the dead left at least 25 people injured, 24 missing and hundreds marooned, authorities said.
Rescue crews in helicopters plucked survivors from waist-high mud, including a 14-year-old girl. I thought I was dead for a minute there, she told them.
All hell broke loose, Peter Hartmann, a dentist, told AP. Power lines were down, high-voltage power lines, the large aluminum poles to hold those were snapped in half. Water was flowing out of water mains and sheared-off fire hydrants. He watched rescuers revive a toddler pulled unresponsive from the muck. It was a freaky moment to see her just covered in mud.
The death toll was expected to rise as search-and-rescue teams took advantage of the storms ebbing to scour several dozen damaged and destroyed homes. Right now our assets are focused on determining if anyone is still alive in any of those structures that have been damaged, Sheriff Bill Brown of Santa Barbara county told reporters.
The storm the first of the rainy season turned devastating because huge wildfires in recent months charred mountains and canyons, leaving soil unable to efficiently absorb water.
Authorities anticipated the danger and issued evacuation orders in recently burned areas of Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties. Only an estimated 10 to 15% of people in a mandatory evacuation area of Santa Barbara county heeded the warning.
The harrowing consequences rekindled a perennial debate about the Golden State occupying a thin line between fortune and disaster, and the lottery of never knowing which will strike.
Weve been dodging bullets and got lucky again, said Tom Suchner, 63, a car mechanic, as he walked his dog down Kagel canyon. It was a nice, steady rain. It got rid of a lot of the ash.
In this part of the Verdugo mountains, a rugged patch of nature on LAs outskirts, residents woke up on Wednesday to marshy soil and not much worse.
But just a few miles away a mudflow traced a burnt ridgeline and smashed into an affluent neighbourhood lining La Tuna canyon road.
It was a full river, boulders floating down, hitting cars, said one resident, Diana Kalaitzian, 45. Ive always been more scared of fires but now I think you have to worry more about mud because you dont see it coming. Its silent and faster.
Helicopters hovered as Kalaitzian stood outside her home, surveying the aftermath: sludge in every direction, a landscape overnight turned brown. Neighbours were shovelling sludge.