Officials fear that the death toll in the California mudslides could climb


Authorities fear that the death toll in the mudslides that rocked southern California earlier this week could continue to climb.

To date, 17 deaths have been reported, with 28 injuries recorded in Santa Barbara County following a deluge that hit the area devasted by wildfires just last month.

Police say that more than 17 people are still missing, while the death toll rose after two more bodies were found on Wednesday afternoon.

Emergency services were able to rescue more than 50 people already, but efforts were being hampered as certain areas remained inaccessible.

“We are still very much in active search-and-rescue mode,” Chris Elms a spokesperson for Cal Fire explained, warning that the death toll could still increase.

“That’s a fear. We are still very hopeful that we will locate people alive,” he added.

One of the neighbourhoods affected by the mudslides is the upmarket suburb of Montecito, which is home to celebrities like Rob Lowe, Ellen Degeneres and Oprah Winfrey.

The devastating mudslides occurred after the first rain to fall in the area in months fell shortly after wildfires decimated larges tracts of land in December.

Following the fire, burned vegetation and charred soil created a water-repellent layer which blocked water absorption, BBC reports.

Officials said that in some areas, mud was reported to be as deep as waist-high.

California Governor Jerry Brown in December warned that climate change meant that the state was “facing a new reality” as wildfires could erupt more regularly now – “every year or every few years”, he warned.