17 dead, 17 missing after flooding and mudslides force thousands to flee in California
At least 17 people are dead, 17 are missing and more than two dozen are injured in California from weather-related incidents, Santa Barbara County officials said Wednesday. The southern part of the state has been drenched with severe rain just weeks after several fires tore through the area.
Flash flooding, debris flow and mudslides are punishing the communities hit hard by the Thomas and La Tuna fires, prompting “dozens and dozens” of rescues on the ground, a spokesperson from the Santa Barbara County Fire Department told ABC News.
Many more are feared to be dead and buried beneath the mud. At least 17 people have been reported missing, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Wednesday.
More than 500 first responders and 10 dogs are working on the search-and-rescue efforts in the region, focusing on a list of missing people and their addresses, fire officials said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
Hundreds of people have already been rescued, many of whom had to be hoisted out of the mud-filled area by aircraft, Brown said.
Among those killed was Roy Rohter, the founder of the St. Augustine Academy in Ventura, according to the Catholic school’s headmaster, Michael Van Hecke.
A mudslide swept Rohter and his wife, Theresa Rohter, out of their home in Montecito. Rohter’s wife was rescued and hospitalized in stable condition, but Roy Rohter did not survive, Hecke told ABC News.
“Roy’s life has been in service to his good, loving and ever-forgiving God,” Hecke, a close friend of the Rohters, said in a statement. “Thousands have been blessed by the Rohters’ friendship and generosity.”
Loved ones spent time Wednesday desperately searching for a Montecito resident who they believe was swept away from the mudslides.
The woman had tried to escape the mudslides with a friend, who was rescued near her home in mud up to his neck near her home, longtime friend Doug Scott told ABC News. Scott said she had gone downstairs when she heard rumbling, and the pair were both swept away.
The woman’s son, confirmed to ABC News that her body was found Wednesday afternoon.
Among the missing were sisters Sawyer Corey, 12, and Morgan Corey, 25, family members confirmed to ABC News. A third sister and the girls’ mother are currently being treated in the ICU, the family said.
Montecito alone saw heavy rainfall in a short amount of time. About a third of the rain that has fallen in the last 24 hours in Montecito happened in just five minutes, according to the National Weather Service.
Because hundreds of thousands of acres were charred in the fires, the influx of water has nowhere to go.
Some homes in Montecito’s affluent community have been ripped from their foundations as a result of the torrential conditions. About 100 homes have been destroyed and another 300 were damaged, county officials said.