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Search Continues For Hundreds After Mudslides In Southern California


First there were the fires. Then there were the floods. And now a massive rescue operation is underway along the southern California coast. Mudslides and flows of debris brought by the region's first winter storm have stranded hundreds of people in Santa Barbara County. Seventeen people are confirmed dead. More than a dozen are still missing. NPR's Nathan Rott has the latest.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Rescue operations, including helicopter airlifts, began the day under blue skies in Santa Barbara County just a day after rain poured from gray skies at an unprecedented rate for the area according to the National Weather Service. One rain gauge recorded almost an inch in less than 15 minutes. That water slicked off of fire-charred hillsides, downed blackened canyons, swelling rivers and creeks, flooding neighborhoods, roadways and homes. Residents in Montecito woke to crashing noises and knee-deep muck, posting videos on social media of thrashed homes and cars in a thick, soupy water. Even Oprah was caught up in the mess, posting videos on her Instagram account.


OPRAH WINFREY: This is how deep the mud is, and the house in back is gone.

ROTT: The mudslides have closed roads, including a section of the Pacific Coast Highway. Emergency officials say that there are scores of people that they know are safe but are just trapped by the debris. Amber Anderson, a spokeswoman for the recovery effort, says their top priority is reaching those people, getting them to safety and finding the people who are still missing.

AMBER ANDERSON: We are doing a thorough search of the area. That started yesterday immediately after that debris flow. We worked throughout the night. We had helicopters doing hoisting operations to rescue people that we were aware of as well continue to look for people who we are - were unaware of.

ROTT: Anderson says those rescue efforts are expected to continue until everyone is found. Given the scale and scope of the disaster, though, she says, that may take some time. Nathan Rott, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHITE ARROWS' "CAN'T STOP NOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.
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