MONTECITO, Calif. (Reuters) – Rescue crews expanded their search on Friday for at least five people missing after mudslides in southern California that killed at least 17 people, damaged hundreds of buildings and caked highways with sludge.
About 1,250 emergency workers raced against the clock to find survivors with drones, heavy equipment and sniffer dogs in the rescue and clean-up efforts, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said.
“We’ve got a window that’s closing but we’re still very optimistic we’ve got some time. There’s been plenty of cases where they’ve found people a week after,” Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason said on a muddy Montecito street that was especially hard hit by the mudslide.
In Santa Barbara County, it has been at least two days since anyone was rescued alive, Eliason said. Most rescues were on Tuesday.
The number of missing has fluctuated as people were located, said the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office. Authorities said on Thursday night that 43 people were not accounted for.
Residents in some areas were subject to a new mandatory evacuation on Friday, emergency officials said, adding that the unstable environment remained a threat to residents and emergency responders.
Triggered by heavy rains, the massive slides struck before dawn on Tuesday. Walls of mud and debris cascaded down hillsides stripped of trees and shrubs last month by wildfires, including the Thomas Fire, the largest blaze in the state’s history.
Excavators carrying rescuers in their buckets plowed through mud-coated roads in search of the missing after some areas were buried in as much as 15 feet (4.6 m) of mud, emergency officials said.
“It is heavy. It’s wet. It just exhausts the crews out there,” Sacramento Fire Department Captain Pat Costamagna said in a social media video from the governor’s emergency management office.
County officials have already ordered residents in most of the southeastern corner of Montecito, an unincorporated community east of the city of Santa Barbara, to leave their homes for what they said was likely to be one or two weeks to aid the search…