Thu, Jan 13, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Rescuers search for slide victims

CALIFORNIA Rescuers hauled away dirt and debris and listened for signs of life with at least a dozen people still missing after a hill gave way and engulfed their homes

AP , LA CONCHITA, CALIFORNIA

An unidentified resident tries to salvage her belongings, as emergency workers continued to search through debris for possible survivors trapped inside collapsed houses after a mudslide on Tuesday in La Conchita, California.

PHOTO: AP

Rescuers with listening devices sensitive enough to pick up a whimper or faint tapping searched for victims feared buried in a mudslide that sent trees and dirt thundering onto this seaside hamlet, killing at least six people.

There was hope of finding survivors because searchers were discovering spaces under the debris large enough to hold people, Ventura County Fire Chief Bob Roper said as darkness fell on the rescue effort for a second night. Authorities said around a dozen people were missing, and 10 had been injured.

Neighbors and relatives of the missing watched in agony as rescuers hauled away dirt bucket by bucket and looked for signs of life. Commands for quiet would bring activity to a halt as rescuers lowered microphones into the debris to listen for survivors.

"I know they've got to be there. I'm not going to stop," Jimmie Wallet said as he desperately searched for his wife and three children, ages 2, 6 and 10. His face and clothes were caked in mud after digging for hours.

The mudslide was a byproduct of a ferocious string of storms that have claimed at least 21 lives around the state since Friday. The heavy rain has left bluffs and hillsides soaked, raising the risk of more mudslides like the one that devastated La Conchita on Monday.

The dirt flowed like a waterfall, engulfing more than a dozen homes in a four-block area of the town 112km northwest of Los Angeles. Panicked residents ran as the tons of mud closed in one them; others ran toward the mudslide, helping some of the injured reach safety.

Fifteen homes were destroyed and 16 were damaged. Estimates of the missing had ranged as high as 27, but authorities later revised the figure to about a dozen. The missing included three children, Roper said.

Yellow-clad firefighters and prison crews in orange suits clambered over the dark brown mound, using their hands, shovels, buckets, wheelbarrows and chainsaws.

Initial work was done by hand, but by afternoon, a backhoe was brought in to move larger debris. Tow trucks removed flattened vehicles.

All the while, a still-unstable cliff towered above them. Onlookers were given air horns and told to sound them if they saw any sign that the hillside was starting to give way again.

The fourth, fifth and sixth bodies were discovered Tuesday. The victims include three men in their 50s and a woman.

Wallet, the man who spent the night digging for his wife and kids, was briefly handcuffed and detained after trying to run past a barricade.

"I have to get my kid! I have to get my kid!" Wallet screamed before he was taken into a command post and then allowed to return to the mound.

Wallet had gone to pick up ice cream when the mudslide hit. Emerging from a store, he watched the dirt curve toward his block. He sprinted to his home, but it was buried under the muck.

This story has been viewed 2589 times.
TOP top