CA mudslide search continues

The bodies of a mother and her three young children were pulled from the mud and debris here before dawn Wednesday, bringing the death toll from a massive mudslide in the small town of La Conchita, CA, to 10.

BY P.J. HELLER | LA CONCHITA, CA | January 12, 2005


The bodies of a mother and her three young children were pulled from the mud and debris here before dawn Wednesday, bringing the death toll from a massive mudslide in this small coastal town to 10.

Officials continued to carefully dig through the mud and rubble of collapsed houses hoping to find survivors who might be trapped and might have found air pockets in which to breathe. At least eight people were still reported missing. The mudslide destroyed as many as 15 homes and damaged 16 others.

Ventura County Fire Chief Bob Roper said the search would continue nonstop until officials were convinced that no survivors remained.

Rescue workers, digging with shovels, plastic buckets and by hand, used search dogs and fiber-optic cameras to try to locate survivors.

The latest victims were a 37-year-old La Conchita woman and her three children, ages 2, 6 and 10.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger toured the devastated area and met with affected residents.

Faith-based disaster response groups reported they were gathering information from their affiliates and local faith-community partners not only in the mudslide-wracked town but also in other flood-affected areas of California. "Immediate and long-term housing needs may exist for those families whose homes have been washed away and buried by mud," reported Lutheran Disaster Response.

The sea of mud unleashed from a rain soaked and unstable hillside crashed down Monday afternoon on the town.

At least 10 people were injured, two critically, when the mudslide hit at 2:05 p.m. and buried residences in a four-block area tucked up against the hillside. The mud was 30 feet deep in some places, according to Joe Luna, a spokesman with the Ventura County Fire Department.

By nightfall, police, firefighters and search and rescue teams continued to dig through the debris trying to locate people still reported missing.

The search was halted Monday night after rains began to fall again and fears mounted of additional mudslides. Rescuers resumed their frantic search Tuesday and worked through the night as skied cleared.

The town has a population of about 200 people.

“I saw it coming,” said 28-year-old Marco Roldan. “I thought I was gone. It was coming down with such speed. I just ran.”

“It sounded like fireworks,” added Chris Riley, 21. “I saw this big dust cloud and felt the ground move. I could feel the earth shake.”

The mudslide occurred shortly after officials had begun a voluntary evacuation of the town which sits just off Highway 101 about 75 miles north of Los Angeles. The evacuation was begun after mud and debris began blocking the highway, forcing the closure of the road. Concrete barriers along the roadway were washed away and the much of the highway was a thick gooey mess.

The highway around La Conchita remained shut down Wednesday for the third straight day.

At least 25 deaths in California have been blamed on five days of near constant downpours. The storms dumped more than 25 inches of rain in some areas within a four-day period, according to the National Weather Service.

The storms which battered Southern California eased Tuesday and clear weather was forecast for the next several days.

La Conchita residents are no strangers to the disasters. In 1995, a mudslide destroyed about a dozen homes in the town. No deaths or injuries were reported.

The mudslide in La Conchita was the worst of the weather-related incidents reported in Southern California. Elsewhere, roads, freeways and rail lines were shut down due to flooding, mudslides and rockslides. Traffic was brought to a virtual standstill in some areas. Downed power lines left thousands of people without electricity. Rescue crews plucked people to safety from floodwaters. Schools were forced to close.

Los Angeles officials said they had received more than 3,000 emergency telephone 911 calls on Sunday and Monday.

In La Conchita, meantime, residents continued to watch and wait for word of family and friends, as well as whether their homes had been destroyed.

“I hope my friends are OK,” Riley said. “I hope they find them. I hope I have a house to come back to.”


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