California mudslides death toll reaches 15

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Mud and debris on a road in Montecito after heavy flooding in Southern California. (AP)
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Long Beach Search and Rescue looks for survivors in a car in Montecito, California (Daniel Dreifuss)
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US 101 freeway at the Olive Mill Road overpass is flooded with runoff water from Montecito Creek in Montecito, California (AP)
Updated 11 January 2018

California mudslides death toll reaches 15

LOS ANGELES: The death toll from devastating mudslides unleashed by a ferocious storm in southern California rose to 15 Wednesday as rescuers scoured the debris of demolished homes for survivors and bodies.
Between 12 and 24 people who were believed to in the area at the time of the slides remained unaccounted for, said Chris Elms, a spokesman for state firefighters. About 500 law enforcement officers and firefighters were combing mud-covered neighborhoods, using dogs, helicopters and thermal imaging equipment to locate missing people.
A rainstorm sent rivers of waist-high mud and debris flowing from the hills into the affluent Santa Barbara County community of Montecito early Tuesday — ravaging swaths of land scorched by the Thomas fire last month.
Floodwater overwhelmed the south-facing slopes above the town of 9,000, northwest of Los Angeles, bursting the banks of a creek and sending massive rocks rolling into homes, according to emergency services.

“The sheriff’s office can confirm 15 fatalities but is not able to provide additional details at this time,” a spokesman for the county department said on its Twitter feed.
At least 25 other people were injured, authorities said, while first responders were able to airlift around 50 residents and rescue dozens more from the ground. About 300 people were also stranded in a canyon. Local rescue crews, using borrowed helicopters from the US Coast Guard, worked to airlift them out, officials said.
“Currently we are working to identify people who might still be trapped and isolated in areas that we have not been able to gain complete access to,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told CBS’s “This Morning.”
“We worked through the night and I’m happy to say we managed to get to some folk trapped in homes but otherwise safe.”
He said that there was no way of telling how many people were still trapped, adding that some people had ignored evacuation orders.
“I think most people are shocked at the extent of the damage and how big the impact was to the area. Although we knew this was coming, you couldn’t help but be amazed at the intensity of the storm and the result of the mudslide and the water that cascaded down the hills.”
The Santa Barbara County Fire Department said on its Twitter feed Tuesday it was using dogs to look for victims where multiple homes once stood in Montecito following the heavy rain.
Officials have ordered residents in a large swath of Montecito to stay in their homes so that rescuers can better go about their work.
The department posted pictures of rivers of mud flowing through neighborhoods, with homes collapsed, cars smashed up and turned onto their roofs and roads rendered impassible by fallen trees.
Roads were clogged throughout the region with mudflows shutting down more than 30 miles (50 kilometers) of the 101 Freeway on Tuesday and knocking a number of homes from their foundations.
Mudslides damaged historic hotels and the homes of celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, who relish the area sandwiched between the ocean and the sprawling Los Padres National Forest, for its natural beauty and proximity to sprawling Los Angeles.
Winfrey posted a video on Instagram showing her wading through nearly knee-deep mud on her Montecito property.
“The house in back is gone,” she could be heard saying as she inspected the damage.

A post shared by Oprah (@oprah) on

Television personality Ellen DeGeneres, who owns a home in the upscale Montecito community, posted a photo on Twitter of a roadway choked with mud and brown water.
“This is not a river,” DeGeneres wrote on Twitter. “This is the 101 freeway in my neighborhood right now. Montecito needs your love and support.”

The highest rainfall total was recorded at five inches (13 centimeters) in Ventura County, according to the National Weather Service Los Angeles.
Much of the affected area is land scorched by the massive Thomas fire several weeks ago, the second-largest wildfire in California’s history, where there is no vegetation to soak up the excess water.
A evacuation order was issued in a section of the Los Angeles suburb of Burbank, which was hit by a mudslide that pulled cars out of driveways and carried them downstream.
The slide also caused a “significant” gas leak, and repair efforts left homes on the street with no gas, electricity or water.
“There were many homes, about 40 to 45 homes, affected by it, a couple homes damaged,” Burbank Fire Department Battalion Chief John Owings told local TV news channel KCAL9.
“We performed two physical rescues at approximately 7 o’clock this morning.”
At Los Angeles International Airport, flooding forced the closure of the customs area in Terminal 2.
The rain was lighter in the desert than in coastal areas, but the downpour shattered a January 9 Palm Springs record of 1.13 inches set in 1980, according to the weather service.
The rain had all but vanished by Tuesday evening, but mandatory evacuations were still in place across the region due to the threat of additional mudslides.
“Any additional rain is going to push more mud down,” Owings said.
The storm came after a 10-month dry spell following torrential rains in January and February of last year.

Labour set to vote against Brexit deal, open to second referendum

Opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, left, and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry during the third day of the Labour party conference in Liverpool Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 2 min 23 sec ago

Labour set to vote against Brexit deal, open to second referendum

  • If Theresa May brings back a deal that does not meet our tests — and that looks increasingly likely — Labour will vote against her deal
  • Starmer said May was on course to fail these tests

LIVERPOOL: Britain’s opposition Labour Party is set to vote against any deal Prime Minister Theresa May clinches with the European Union and is open to a second referendum with the option of staying in the bloc, Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said on Tuesday.

With just over six months until Britain leaves the EU, May has yet to reach a deal on the terms of the divorce, and her plan for future trade ties has been rebuffed by both the EU and many lawmakers in her own Conservative Party.

Labour has listed six tests it would apply to any Brexit deal, including whether it ensured a strong future relationship with the EU and delivered the same benefits Britain has as a member of its single market and customs union.

Starmer said May was on course to fail these tests.

He called for an election to allow a Labour government to steer Britain’s departure from the EU, the biggest shift in the country’s foreign and trade policy in decades.

“If Theresa May brings back a deal that does not meet our tests — and that looks increasingly likely — Labour will vote against her deal,” he told Labour members at the party’s conference in the northern city of Liverpool.

He repeated Labour’s argument that if Parliament rejected May’s Chequers deal, named after the prime minister’s country residence where she hashed out a plan with her ministers, the party would press for a general election.

“But if we need to break the impasse our options must include campaigning for a public vote and nobody is ruling out remain as an option,” he said to a standing ovation and prolonged applause in a packed conference hall.

The Conservative Party’s chairman, Brandon Lewis, accused Labour of breaking “their promises” and taking “us back to square one on Brexit.” 

The EU indicated officials in Brussels saw a new referendum as a complication rather than a solution.

“That does not sound like a solution to anything. The first referendum is still keeping us busy. And will they want to have a third one in another two years?” asked a senior EU diplomat in Brussels. “It’s more about power struggles in Britain than about managing Brexit seriously.”

But with May’s plan for maintaining close ties with the EU for trade in goods facing opposition from her own lawmakers, Labour could play a decisive role in whether any Brexit deal is approved by parliament.

May has a working majority of just 13 in the 650-seat parliament and a former junior minister said this month as many as 80 of her own lawmakers were prepared to vote against a Brexit deal based on the Chequers plan.

But like the governing Conservatives and much of the country, Labour is split over how to leave the bloc, with its veteran euroskeptic leader, Jeremy Corbyn, under pressure from many members to move to a more pro-EU position.

Brendan Chilton, general secretary of Brexit campaigning group Labour Leave, accused Starmer of launching a leadership bid and of trying to undermine Corbyn.

“This is a betrayal of the very highest order. It is a betrayal not only of the millions of Labour voters, but of our 2017 manifesto,” he said, referring to the party’s campaign at last year’s election that gained Labour more votes than many expected.

Labour’s conference will vote later on Tuesday on keeping a second Brexit referendum as an option if May fails to get her Brexit plan through parliament.

In the published motion which the Labour conference will debate later on Tuesday, the party again set out is position on Brexit — it wants full participation in the EU’s single market after Brexit and will reject a “no deal Brexit.” 

The wording on a possible second referendum was left vague, opening the way for some to describe it as a fudge when the party’s finance spokesman, John McDonnell, said any such vote should be on how to leave the EU, not whether to do so.

But Starmer was clear. He understood that the motion could allow Britain to vote to stay in the EU.

“This isn’t about frustrating the process,” he said. “It’s about stopping a destructive Tory Brexit. It’s about fighting for our values and about fighting for our country.”