Body discovered inside van buried in mud left by California flash floods

Southern California fire crews discovered a man's body Tuesday inside a van that had been buried under several feet of mud after a flash flood overran a road near Los Angeles last week.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department told KTTV that crews clearing the van off a road in Palmdale found the body.

The discovery could be the first death related to last Thursday's storm, which sent a wave of water rushing toward the Mojave Desert roadway. The flooding also mired more than 100 cars and trucks in mud farther north on State Route 58 in Kern County. Crews carted away the mud and expect to clear those roads within 24 hours.

KTTV reported that witnesses called city officials multiple times on Thursday to report that the van had been pushed off the roadway by the flooding. Officials said they had to wait until the conditions were stable to search for any missing persons.

“You feel for the people,” Katie Clawson, of Quartz Hill, told KTTV. “You feel for the people who maybe lost their loved one.”

Officials know the man’s name, but the family doesn’t want to release it, according to KTTV.

Meanwhile, the search for a missing 67-year-old Vietnam veteran swept away by flood waters at the foot of the Tehachapi Mountains area was suspended after officials deemed the deep mud made the search too dangerous.

Much of the half-mile-long search area was covered in up to 6 feet of muck and debris, according to Kern County sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt.

"The searchers said it's like wading into quicksand," he said. "It's just not safe."

Officials hoped to resume the search later for Richard Harvell, who was hit by mud and water as he tried to climb into his truck.

Harvell had been camping in the flash-flood zone with a childhood friend who watched helplessly as he was washed away, Harvell's daughter Susan Garcia said Monday.

Garcia said the family was holding out hope that he's still alive.

The search area is south of State Route 58 in Tehachapi, where massive debris flows trapped more than 100 cars, buses, RVs and big-rig trucks.

Crews hauled away the last of the trapped vehicles Monday but tons of hardened mud still needs to be removed before traffic starts flowing again, officials said.

A small army of dump trucks, bulldozers and other equipment hauled away 65,000 cubic yards of mud by midday Tuesday with another 10,000 cubic yards to go, said Florene Trainor, a spokeswoman with the California Department of Transportation.

The highway 80 miles north of downtown Los Angeles was expected to reopen Thursday, she said.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.