Death toll from California mudslides rises to 19

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 14 2018 02:41 PM

Santa Barbara County Fire Capt Adam Estabrook and Engineer Rick Pinal search through a debris pile behind a home destroyed by mudflow and debris in Montecito, California, US, Saturday. Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire/Handout via Reuters

LOS ANGELES - Authorities in southern California raised the death toll from mudslides that battered the region to 19 on Saturday as rescue workers continued the search for victims.

Five people are still missing after the mudslides, according to an update on the County of Santa Barbara's website, which warned people to "anticipate the numbers of missing persons to fluctuate significantly."

"Crews continue to search buildings and debris flows for trapped victims. The unstable environment remains a critical threat to civilians and responders," it said.

"The large amounts of mud and debris are making access and progress challenging."

Heavy rain on Tuesday, which followed 10 months of drought, sent sticky mud and debris flowing down the hills into Montecito.

In addition to the dead and injured, 65 homes have been destroyed while another 462 sustained damage.

Terrifying wildfires in the area forced evacuations in December, and the mudslides struck just two weeks after people returned.

The fires burned most vegetation, leaving perfect conditions for the latest disaster to unfold.