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California mudslide rescue crews pull out ‘all the stops’ to search for the missing

Since mud cascaded through the wealthy California enclave of Montecito, rescuers have been forced to trek through knee-deep sludge, using long poles to probe for bodies. For some families, it's an agonizing wait as the window to find life begins to close. Judy Woodruff gets an update on rescue efforts from Amber Anderson of the Santa Barbara City Fire Department.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The day's other major story is the desperate hunt for mudslide victims in Southern California.

    The death toll stands at 17, and more than 500 searchers are looking for eight people still missing. Meanwhile, terrifying new images of the mud avalanche are emerging.

  • Man:

    Turn around. The flash flood's right there!

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The moment disaster struck, early Tuesday, Marco Farrell watched it happen at his parents' home in Montecito.

  • Man:

    Oh, my God, mom, close the door out. Get ready to go out. Wake dad up.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The mud poured into the house, reaching the level of the kitchen sink. A torrential rainfall had soaked hillsides that wildfires burned clear last year, and the mud cascaded through the wealthy coastal enclave of 9,000.

  • Cathy Clemen:

    We saw one of our neighbors airlifted, but, sadly, several people are missing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Rescuers have been forced to trek through knee-deep sludge, using long poles to probe for bodies. For some families, it's an agonizing wait, as the window to find life begins to close.

  • Sam Johnson:

    In a neighborhood this small, every single name that turns up is someone's dad, someone's cousin, someone's teacher. And that's got to be the worst part of it all, I think. We're just happy for everyone that makes it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The damage is catastrophic. The torrent ripped apart this house. Nearby, only a chimney remains with no home to heat.

    Overall, officials now say about 60 homes were destroyed and more than 400 damaged. Across Santa Barbara County, thick muck, displaced boulders and mud-covered vehicles are strewn about the landscape, covering roads and cutting off any way out.

  • Roger Bacon:

    I am trapped up here right now until they clear the road. I have food, water. No power until they turn the power back on. I didn't expect the road to actually close, and the other way is even worse. So, I mean, I'm totally stuck up here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Meanwhile, there are growing questions about why so many people didn't heed evacuation warnings.

    Authorities now say that by the time final alerts went out, the mud was already pouring down the hills.

    For more now from the flood and slide-stricken areas, we go to Amber Anderson of the City of Santa Barbara Fire Department. She joined us by Skype a short time ago from the emergency operations center.

    Thank you very much for talking with us.

    First of all, tell us, how are the rescue and recovery efforts going?

  • Amber Anderson:

    The rescue an recovery efforts are going very well, as we have seen a decrease in the last 12 hours.

    From the number of missing, which was reported last night at 17, this morning we are down to eight missing people. That still means that we have eight people out there. Critical for us to get in there and find it. We have crews that are continuing to come in from throughout the state.

    We are working 24 hours a day around the clock right now with our search-and-rescue efforts to find those missing individuals.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Can you describe for us why this is so challenging? Is there anything you can compare it to?

  • Amber Anderson:

    Why it's so challenging, let me count the ways. It is very difficult out there.

    Have we ever seen anything like this? None of us have. Just coming off of the heels of the largest wildfire within the state of California, immediately followed by one of the biggest rain events that we have seen here in Santa Barbara County in a number of years, proved to be catastrophic.

    We have seen — we have had people that have lost their lives. We have had families that are displaced. We have had almost 500 structures that have been damaged, 65 completely destroyed. That doesn't even account for the commercial structures and the huge loss that we're just feeling throughout the community here in Santa Barbara.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What sort of equipment are the rescue and recovery folks having — are using?

  • Amber Anderson:

    We're pretty much pulling out all the stops with all the equipment.

    We have a tremendous amount of heavy equipment that is working in close coordination with all of our first-responders out there in the field. We have helicopters that are being utilized to search the area, as well as utilizing — utilizing them — excuse me — for hoisting operations, which a lot of those took place in the first initial 24 hours to get people to a safer area, as a lot of them were located in an area where they were inaccessible by vehicle and foot traffic because of the amounts of debris, the amounts of power lines down and the general hazards throughout this area, with the debris flow that we saw on Tuesday morning.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Are you able, with your personnel, to get to where you need to be to search for the missing?

  • Amber Anderson:

    We are making our way there.

    Yesterday, we had covered approximately 75 percent of the debris flow area. Today, we are hopeful we are going to be able to cover the entire debris flow area and get some eyes on it at some portion.

    Is it accessible by vehicle completely, entirely? No, that is not the case. And that is why we are continuing to utilize that heavy equipment to open up access roads, to get us into places where we can't, as well as using our helicopters to deploy resources into those areas.

    We're still — search-and-rescue is our primary objective here. And we're hoping that, within the next day or two, we can transition into more of a recovery effort.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, finally, what about the homes that have been damaged, the commercial structures? How are all those people coping right now? What about services, water and so on?

  • Amber Anderson:

    We are working very hard to get those services back up.

    As we know, water lines are down. There was a boil order issued that was put into effect by the Montecito Water District. Gas lines are broken throughout the area. Power lines are down. There's so much that goes into providing for those residents that not only that have been displaced, but throughout the area in order to get those utilities and those services back up, so that we can get people back into their homes and back into the rebuilding process, to get them back to their normal every day life.

    That's our goal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we certainly wish you the very best with all of this, and to everybody working on it.

    Amber Anderson with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, thank you.

  • Amber Anderson:

    Of course. Thank you.

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