LOS ANGELES – At least 13 people died on Tuesday as a result of heavy rains in southwestern California, an area scorched by fires in December but which is now experiencing flooding and landslides.
The heavy rains, with an accumulation of more than four inches (10 centimeters) in the northwestern part of Los Angeles, resulted in rivers of mud and debris that destroyed several homes in Montecito area, in the county of Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara County’s Sheriff Bill Brown confirmed at a press conference that there are 13 deaths so far and the figure is expected to increase, as several people are still missing.
In addition, the floods in Montecito injured at least 25 people, according to the spokesperson for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, Kelly Hoover, who could not yet provide more details on the victims.
The death toll could rise, given that the Fire Department is continuing its rescue operations, using sniffer dogs to find missing people.
The rains forced authorities to close several highways, evacuate thousands of people and perform numerous rescues, such as that of a 14-year-old girl who was trapped for hours in her house in Montecito, which was destroyed by the flooding.
Residents of the areas devastated by fires in December have had to abandon their homes again due to landslides and flooding, while the Santa Barbara County authorities had alerted its residents to take cover in high areas and avoid going out on the roads.
The destruction left by the serious fires across broad areas of the state made it possible for the storm water to rise up and sweep along a wide range of debris and burned vegetation, especially in the southern part of California.
Evacuation orders have been issued in parts of Montecito and Carpinteria that were affected by the recent fires, Santa Barbara County spokesperson Amber Anderson told EFE.
The orders affect some 20,000 people living in both Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties.
The National Weather Service issued a warning for possible sudden flooding in the previously burned areas affected by the Thomas and Whittier fires along the southern coast of Santa Barbara County, the county announced on its Web page.
In the area affected by the Thomas fire, one of the largest in California’s history, the California Highway Patrol reported that it had to close Highway 101 in its northern lane south of Santa Barbara due to the rains.
The torrential rains also caused power outages on Tuesday morning in some parts of Southern California.
In a communique sent to EFE, the Southern California Edison electricity provider confirmed that at least 20,000 people were without electric service due to the storms, but the firm was working to reestablish service “as quickly as possible.”
The 2017 fire season consumed about 559,000 hectares (1.4 million acres) of forest and scrubland, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).
Those fires, which included five of the 20 most destructive fires ever recorded in California, killed 46 people.