Super-saturated land tumbled down a mountain yesterday in the coastal community of La Conchita, Calif., killing at least three people and injuring many more, fire officials said.
Rescuers were searching through the mud for survivors, said Myrna Raya, fire information officer for the Ventura County Fire Department. It was unknown how many people were trapped; 12 were missing, and at least six were taken to area hospitals.
The death brought to 12 the number of people killed in Southern California during the past weekend's storm, one of three bringing record precipitation across the state.
Mike and Barbara Bell, residents of La Conchita since 1983, said the landslide struck without warning about 1:15 p.m. The Bells, who live on a street away from the slide, said they were cleaning up mud when they heard the slide.
"We were standing on the street and just talking and somebody said, 'Oh my God!' and then the hill came down," Mike Bell said. "It covered the same three or four houses it hit the first time, then came across the street and hit six or seven more houses. It clearly destroyed them. It just blew them apart.
"Now I've got to get a backhoe and try to save my own house. The mudslide's at the other end of the street, but every time we get a torrential rain the mud flow comes right down my street. I've got to go if I'm going to save my house," he said.
Kathleen Wood, who has lived in the community since 1985, was taking a walk with a friend through La Conchita when the slide occurred. "I looked up and saw a cloud of dust. It was silent and then it really came down. It snapped the retaining wall," she said.
La Conchita is a small community fronted by U.S. 101 about 60 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. It was also struck by a major landslide in 1995.
The fifth day of thrashing storms took a heavy toll on Southern California as the rain swelled streams and rivers and undermined the integrity of the ground.
An estimated 6,000 customers in Los Angeles were reported without power yesterday.
Earlier yesterday, the body of a 2-year-old girl was recovered in Palmdale, a high desert town in far northeastern Los Angeles County.
The toddler plunged to her death after slipping from her mother's grasp as they were being lifted to safety by rescuers, who responded when the family's vehicle became stuck in a flooded wash Sunday night.
Authorities said the girl's mother, whose name was not released, drove around a barrier, one of several put up by county employees in the area because of dangerously swirling creek waters caused by two weeks of stormy weather.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Michael Handley said cars are swept away all too often when people mistakenly think they can ford swollen waterways in the area.
"It happens all the time," he said. "I don't know what it is, the lemming mentality or something. They're so intent on getting where they're going that they think they can drive through the flood waters."
Roads were clogged with rain and mud, and at least 720 crashes were reported Sunday, more than three times the number of accidents during the previous Sunday when streets were dry, the California Highway Patrol said. Fire officials estimated that 100 roads in Los Angeles saw flooding, mudslides or downed trees.
Yesterday morning, the National Weather service reported that downtown Los Angeles had received 5.16 inches since Friday.
Substantial rains were forecast for last night and through today.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.