Death toll rises in horrific California mudslides (videos)

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Rescue teams continue to search for anyone who is trapped, injured or dead as a result of massive mudslides that occurred Tuesday in Southern California that swept away homes and cars, killing 15 people so far.

Following the torrential rain which triggered the mudslides, search and rescue teams began combing the affected areas, sometimes contending with mud up to their shoulders, the Associated Press reported.

“Right now our assets are focused on determining if anyone is still alive in any of those structures that have been damaged,” said Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown.

According to Brown, several dozen homes were severely damaged or destroyed, many of which were located in areas that were not yet accessible.

Yaneris Muniz, spokeswoman for Santa Barbara County, said that at least 15 people were confirmed dead.

Authorities reported that at least 25 people were injured, with four left in severely critical condition. Fifty or more victims required rescue by helicopters and an undetermined number of others were missing.

The search was set to expand with assistance from a major search-and-rescue team from Los Angeles County, the Coast Guard and the National Guard.

Most of the deaths occurred in and around Montecito, a wealthy community of approximately 9,000 people which is located northwest of Los Angeles.

A mud-covered 14-year-old girl was among the many rescued on Tuesday when she was pulled from her collapsed Montecito home where she had been trapped for hours.

“I thought I was dead for a minute there,” the dazed girl said on the video posted below.

Flash flooding caused the mudslides to occur in the middle of the night in the steep Santa Ynez Mountains, where vegetation on hillsides was burned in December by the largest wildfire on record in California, a 440-square-mile inferno that destroyed 1,063 homes and other structures.

Heavy rain in the forecast prompted authorities to issue evacuation orders in recently burned areas of Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

Authorities said that only an estimated 10 to 15 percent of people residing in a mandatory evacuation area of Santa Barbara County heeded the warning.

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