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Rescuers Search for Mudslide Survivors

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

Rain lashed water-logged Southern California again Tuesday, hampering efforts to find survivors buried by a mud slide in a coastal community and prompting hundreds to flee a mountain town before a rain-swollen lake spills over a dam.

The succession of storms that have brought heavy snow to the mountains of Northern California and astonishing amounts of rain to the south was blamed for the deaths of at least 12 people.

The National Weather Service said Tuesday that downtown Los Angeles had recorded its wettest 15 consecutive days on record, with a total of 17 inches of rain falling in the period ending Monday.

The storm was forecast to taper off late Tuesday or early Wednesday and no new system is expected through the coming Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

In La Conchita, a small community on a spit of land between the hills south of Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean, a massive mudslide Monday killed three people, injured eight and left 21 unaccounted-for.

Some of those 21 may have been out of town, but firefighters were certain at least some were trapped in the 15 homes that were crushed under a pile of mud 30 feet high, said Keith Mashburn, the Ventura County Fire Department's chief investigator.

Rescuers using hand tools resumed their search before daybreak Tuesday when they detected what appeared to be slight movement in the mud and debris. Fire officials advised them to "look for small hands and small fingers" because three children were among the missing, said department spokesman Joe Luna.

Joining the search was Jimmie Wallet, who said he had left his wife and three daughters to buy ice cream and was leaving the store when he saw the river of earth curve toward his block. He ran toward his home but it was buried.

Wallet, 37, told The Associated Press he worked alongside firefighters to rescue two people from the debris Monday, and saw one of his neighbors pulled out dead.

Early Tuesday, Wallet's face and clothes were caked with mud but he said he had not given up hope of finding his family.

"I know they've got to be there. I'm not going to stop," he said.

However, he said, there were no longer screams coming from beneath the debris, as there had been Monday.

Some 20 miles away, about 350 people in Piru took shelter overnight at a school after the entire town of 2,000 residents was advised to evacuate.

"Lake Piru is filling faster than it's releasing water," said Rod Megli, division chief for the Ventura County Fire Department. "That volume of water could affect a number of residents. We'd rather be safe than sorry."

Some Piru residents, however, refused to leave.

"God is with me and I'm not afraid of anything," said Moses Hernandez, refusing to abandon his Elva's Center Market even though others waiting out the storm had cleaned out most of his supplies. "I'm out of everything — eggs, milk, potato chips."

Early Tuesday, however, there was a break in the weather and the sky cleared. "As of now, it's looking good," said county fire Capt. Tom Retan.

The storm also forced the evacuation of an apartment complex in Alhambra, a suburb on the edge of Los Angeles, where authorities feared a rain-saturated hill might give way, and a man was trapped Tuesday in a cave in San Bernardino County. It was not immediately known how long he had been in the cave.

In Glendale, Glendale Community College was ordered closed Tuesday because of fears of mudslides. Roads all over Southern California were being closed periodically because of high water.

The storm also triggered daring rescue efforts throughout the region.

In the San Dimas Canyon area, firefighters used a raft to rescue a toddler but it tipped over and flung everyone into the water. Two firefighters went into the rushing water after the baby and one of them managed to carry the child to safety.

On Sunday, firefighters threw a rope to a man floating downstream after his car had plunged into a creek, but he lost his grip on the rope as they tried to pulled up to a bridge and fell back into the rushing water. He was rescued farther downstream.

To the north, the storm system dumped more than a dozen feet of snow on much of the Sierra Nevada in Northern California and was expected to pile up 3 more feet before subsiding there late Tuesday.

Last week's heavy rain and snow also produced flooding along the Ohio River that has affected communities in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, covering riverside roads and forcing some residents to evacuate.

One person died Monday in Ohio when he drove into high water. The storm also knocked out power in some areas and authorities believe carbon monoxide poisoning killed five people using generators for electricity in Ohio and two in Pennsylvania.


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