LOS ANGELES – A 2-year-old girl drowned after slipping from her mother's grip and falling into the raging floodwaters. A passer-by pulled a 5-year-old stuck in neck-high mud to safety. A man was swept two miles down a swollen, icy river before being rescued.
Emergency crews and good Samaritans have attempted dozens of dramatic rescues in the series of storms that have drenched California in the past week and killed at least 11 people in the state. Many rescues have had happy endings. But in some cases, the violence of the storms proved too much to overcome.
That was the case outside Los Angeles (search) on Sunday, when the little girl fell victim to the floodwaters.
Rescue workers found the girl, her two siblings and their mother stranded on top of their car, floating down a fast-moving wash in Palmdale (search).
The rescue team was using a helicopter to hoist the mother to safety when she lost her grip on her daughter, who then fell into the wash. The mother and other children were rescued along with an unidentified man; the girl's body was found downstream three hours later.
"It's a very tragic event that unfolded — for everybody," Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Mike McCormick said. "Rescues like this really hit hard and we definitely want to try to save as many people as we can. We don't want to lose anybody, especially a child. It really hurts."
The mother, who was not immediately identified, had driven around barricades to try to reach a flooded-out road, sheriff's Lt. Don Ford said. Authorities were weighing whether to bring charges against her in the death of the toddler, who was identified as Jamaia B. Davis of Palmdale.
Firefighters and other rescuers worked furiously Sunday to save a driver whose BMW plunged off Interstate 5 into a Southern California creek and got carried away by the swift current. The water was moving so fast that it tore the man's pants off.
Capt. Mike Yule of the Santa Fe Springs Fire Department (search) and other crews hurried to a bridge two miles downstream to drop safety lines. Others ran along a bike path to keep tabs on the man, the freezing water weakening him by the second.
As the man drifted toward the bridge, he clutched the rope. A group of firefighters and bystanders pulled him up. But just a few feet from the top, he lost his hold and plunged backward more than 10 feet into the icy torrent.
He passed under the bridge. Rescue crews threw the man a life vest with a rope attached, and pulled him to safety. They let out whoops of joy after completing the rescue.
"There are certain times in this job when you wouldn't change this job for anything," Yule said. "And this was one of them. It was an absolute feeling to be able to make a difference. It's indescribable."
The man's young daughter and her friend had been plucked from the creek shortly after the accident.
In yet another rescue, a passer-by who saw a two-story home outside Los Angeles demolished in a mudslide Sunday pulled a 5-year-old girl from the neck-high muck. Firefighters also rescued the girl's brother and 33-year-old father.
David Kapner told KNBC-TV that he was almost buried in mud himself while rescuing the girl. "I just talked to the Lord, told him that if I died out there, if I died helping them, then hey, you know, it's for a good cause at least," Kapner said.
In neighboring Nevada, the storm caused an avalanche that killed a 13-year-old boy who was knocked Sunday from a ski lift while snowboarding. Two other people were found alive shortly after the wave of snow hit at the ski resort about 45 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
McCormick, the Los Angeles County fire official, said the swift-water rescue teams are loaded with county lifeguards who normally oversee 98 miles of beach in the warmer months — making them perfect for flood rescues.
"Those guys are professional swimmers and we got them," McCormick said. "We've got every tool."