At least five people die in winter storm in California

January 10, 2018, 9:51 am

LOS ANGELES -- At least five people have died in a winter storm that led to mudslides in Santa Barbara County in the US state of California, authorities said Tuesday.

Five people had died in the Montecito area, northwest of Los Angeles, as of Tuesday morning, said Mike Eliason, a public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

"The number could be changed," Eliason told Xinhua via phone.

Strong winter storm hammered Southern California on the US West Coast with heavy rain, triggering deadly mud flows.

Several homes have been wiped away by mud flows near the coastal community of Montecito, where recent devastating wildfires left charred hillsides without vegetation cover to hold the downpour.

Firefighters successfully rescued a 14-year-old girl after she was trapped for hours in the ruins of a destroyed home in Montecito.

A gas line was reportedly ruptured and several major freeways and highways were forced to be closed in the area.

The main line of the Union Pacific Railroad through Montecito is blocked with mudflow and debris due to heavy rains, according to the Twitter page of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

The maximum rainfall generally occurred in a 15-minute span this morning near the Montecito, Summerland, and Carpinteria areas, according to National Weather Service (NWS) Los Angeles.

 Montecito got more than a half-inch in five minutes, local media said.

"Most active rain area is just west of Sherpa Fire burn area in Santa Barbara County. Moving more North than East right now. 0.5 inch per hour rain rate by Alisal Reservoir," said the Service on its Twitter page.

The NWS also issued a flash flood advisory for southern Ventura and Santa Barbara County until 1:30 p.m. local time with heavy showers in the area.

Thousands of local residents in Santa Barbara County and nearby areas were under evacuation orders because of the storm.  

"We are receiving emergency alerts once again. Such alerts have posed as serious interruptions to student studying," said Sophie Zeng, a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The university is amidst finals at the beginning of January because of the postponement of Fall quarter finals at the school due to the Thomas fire, the largest wildfire in California's history.

"The heavy rain and winds are causing huge inconveniences for those who have exams early in the morning or need to relocate to other areas to study. Considering my friends and I have already had the trouble of wearing N95 masks to avoid breathing toxic air from the fire, we are very anxious that these emergency alerts will once again affect our final schedules," Zeng told Xinhua.

"However, as of now, students are remaining calm and administration has warned us to keep indoors and safe. Other than an inconvenience, the pours are not affecting the operations of the school and this week's finals," she added.  (Xinhua)