Real estate agent, Catholic school founder among dead in California mudslides

Mudslide damage

EPAEmergency responders are working to pull locals from a waist-deep river of mud

The death toll climbed as emergency workers pulled bodies from the river of knee-deep debris which descended on the community of Montecito and the surrounding Romero Canyon area after a torrent of rain earlier in the week.

Cal Fire puts the affected area at 30 square miles.

The number of missing people fluctuated as some were located.

Major roads were swamped, trapping many in their homes. "You know there are looters being caught and there are so many gawkers and people that just have no business being in here".

And rescue teams were still slogging through the mud, hunting for the missing and assessing the damage.

"We ran into the house and right then the boulders busted through the house", Berkeley "Augie" Johnson told KSBY. "I screamed at my family and water started coming into the house". About a block up from Farrell's home, firefighters were helping Devon Crail and his wife, Tiare, retrieve items from his parents' house. The walls at one end of a home had completely disappeared, leaving its roof hanging precariously.

To the south is the Pacific Ocean and to the west is Santa Barbara and its city amenities.

"Load up the auto, get the dogs, we're out of here", the 58-year-old shopping center developer says he told his wife. I'm hoping it's okay. Their grandson had taken them out to celebrate the day before.

"We totally thought we were out of the woods", said Markham whose home survived last month's wildfire. In some cases, dirt can even become water-repellent.

Jim and Alice Mitchell moved into their dream retirement home in Santa Barbara County in 1999 and chose to stay there to celebrate Jim's 89th birthday Tuesday, only to be swept away by raging floodwaters, along with their home and their maltipoo named Gigi, their family told NBC news today.

Another contributing factor is that alerts about potential mudslides did not go out until the flows began.

Firefighters who fought deadly wildfires in the area in December are now searching flattened homes across Santa Barbara County for mudslide survivors.

Several homes were swept away before dawn Tuesday when mud and debris roared into neighborhoods in Montecito from hillsides stripped of vegetation during a recent wildfire.

It's unclear how many people actually got the alert.

The father and brother of the 14-year-old girl, who was rescued from the rubble after her home collapsed, were still missing two days after the mudslides in Montecito, California, according to a family friend.

In Montecito, some residents said they had shrugged off dire warnings about the rainstorm before waking up to the morning mess.

Helen Murdoch, a resident of Santa Barbara, described the damage done by the mudslides this way: "I would say it's apocalyptic".

About 7,000 residents in Santa Barbara County were ordered to evacuate before the downpour on Tuesday, and another 23,000 were urged to do so voluntarily - but many remained. The couple of more than five decades planned to stay at home because of the rain and have a quiet dinner.

Marco Farrell, a real estate agent, cited "evacuation fatigue" as his reason not to leave - a decision he wouldn't make next time.

Troy doesn't blame the county for keeping her neighborhood under only a voluntary evacuation advisory until it was too late to get out - only herself.

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