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California mudslides kill at least 13 in region scorched by wildfires

More than 25 people were injured as mud, water, and debris flooded deluged neighborhoods in Santa Barbara County.

US-WEATHER-MUDSLIDES Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Mudslides killed at least 13 people on Tuesday in Southern California, as heavy rain pounded a region recently devastated by the largest wildfire in state history.

Relentless rain and flooding brought mud and debris spilling onto roadways and neighborhoods in Montecito and Carpinteria, in Santa Barbara County, northwest of Los Angeles.

Authorities in Santa Barbara County warned that the death toll could rise, as more people are feared trapped beneath the mud. At least 25 others were injured, and fire officials with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department told ABC News that they had conducted “dozens and dozens” of rescues.

“It’s going to be worse than anyone imagined for our area,” Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesperson Mike Eliason told the Los Angeles Times. “Following our fire, this is the worst-case scenario.”

Rescuers face difficulties because power lines, trees, and other debris have blocked roadways, and the US Coast Guard dispatched rescue helicopters, according to the New York Times. The mudslides and downpours forced the closure of major roadways, complicating response operations.

Santa Barbara County had issued an evacuation order for about 7,000 residents, but many didn’t heed the warning.

Experts worried about mudslides in the aftermath of the Thomas fire, which incinerated more than 280,000 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. That left land scorched, and the soil unable to absorb large amounts of water — making it vulnerable to the type of mudslides that engulfed the region on Tuesday.

The downpours began after midnight on Tuesday and continued throughout the day, in some instances falling as swiftly as an inch per hour, reports the New York Times. Local rainfall amounts varied, but according to the National Weather Service, the isolated areas in the mountains and foothills of hard-hit Santa Barbara County saw as much as 4 inches of rain; the coastal areas recorded as much 3 inches as of Tuesday afternoon local time.

Flash flood warnings were canceled in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties by 4 pm Pacific time. The National Weather Service said showers will linger overnight, but the worst of the rain in the region appears to be over.

Still, officials and residents alike have only begun to assess the scale of the damage in a state still recovering from a catastrophic disaster.

The United States estimated natural disasters added up to $306 billion in 2017, the costliest year on record. Much of that came from three destructive hurricanes — Harvey, Irma, and Maria — and the California wildfires, the aftermath of which is clearly far from over.

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