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First responders search for 8 still missing after California mudslides

By Susan McFarland
First responders search for 8 still missing after California mudslides
Emergency crews use all terrain armored tactical vehicles in search and rescue efforts Wednesday in Southern California. Officials said the off-road equipment got crews into areas that would otherwise have been inaccessible. Photo courtesy Santa Barbara Sheriff Department/ Twitter

Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Search teams are looking for at least 8 people who are reported missing after a series of mudslides in Southern California -- a search that's being hampered by blocked roads, downed trees and power lines.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Thursday the priority now is finding survivors as families of the missing wait for word about their loved ones.

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At least 17 people have been killed in the mudslides and authorities are fearing that number could rise as responders search for more victims.

Dozens of stranded residents have been rescued by helicopter in areas of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties -- some from their vehicles and others from rooftops.

RELATED 17 dead in California mudslides, 100 homes destroyed

All 17 deaths were reported in Santa Barbara County, in addition to 28 people being injured. Authorities haven't confirmed the names of the dead, but say children are among the victims. About 100 homes were destroyed and 300 more damaged in the county.

Parts of U.S. Highway 101 were shut down and could remain closed until Monday, officials said.

Emergency cellphone alerts warning residents about the mudslides were not sent out by Santa Barbara County officials until after the flooding had already begun, officials noted Wednesday.

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RELATED At least 13 killed in California floods, mudslides

Officials said heavy rain was expected but the downpour was much worse than anticipated. Prior to the storm, the county sent out several warnings about the possibility of mudslides through social media, news outlets and community email blasts.

Jeff Gater, Santa Barbara County's emergency manager, told the Los Angeles Times the county did not use the cellphone alert system out of concern that it might not be taken seriously.

"If you tell everyone to get out, everyone get out, the next time people won't listen," Gater said. "If you cry wolf, people stop listening."

RELATED Mudslide danger looms in Southern California as fire threat diminishes

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