Four Killed, 27 Missing in California Mudslide
LOS ANGELES – Rescuers continued their search Tuesday for people feared trapped under tons of mud and rock that crashed down a mountain south of Santa Barbara and destroyed 15 homes.
At least 27 people remain unaccounted for following the massive mudslide in La Conchita (search) that left a pile of dirt 30 feet high. A fourth body was pulled out of the mud late Tuesday morning, and two people were hospitalized in critical condition. A total of 14 people were injured in the destruction.
The rescue effort was hampered by yet another day of wet weather. A succession of storms, which have brought heavy snow to parts of Northern California and astonishing amounts of rain to the south, was blamed for the deaths of at least 19 people, turning normally mild Southern California into a giant flood zone.
The National Weather Service (search) 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.
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.
Bill Harbison, a resident of La Conchita who saw the Monday afternoon mudslide, described the scene as one of absolute "carnage."
"It's one big, huge, tangled mess — as though somebody picked up their home, crumpled it into a ball and threw it back down," Harbison told FOX News.
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 (search) 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.
FOX News' William LaJeunesse and The Associated Press contributed to this report.