- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2005

LA CONCHITA, Calif. (AP) — Rescuers with listening devices sensitive enough to pick up a whimper or a faint tapping searched yesterday for victims feared buried in a mudslide that sent a thunderous cascade of trees and dirt onto this seaside hamlet.

At least six persons were killed and 10 were injured, and most of them were pulled from the mud. About a dozen others are unaccounted for, authorities said.

Neighbors and relatives of the missing watched in agony as rescuers hauled away buckets of dirt and looked for signs of life. Commands for quiet brought 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 searched for his wife and three children, ages 2, 6 and 10.

Hope of finding survivors prevailed last night because searchers were discovering spaces under the debris large enough to hold people, Ventura County Fire Department Chief Bob Roper said as darkness fell on the rescue effort for a second night.

The mudslide was a byproduct of a ferocious string of storms that have claimed at least 21 lives throughout 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 15 homes in a four-block area of the town 70 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Panicked residents ran as the tons of mud closed in on them; others ran toward the mudslide, helping some of the injured reach safety.

There were several harrowing ordeals from the storms in Southern California: A man’s body was found wedged in a tree in a canyon; an 18-year-old woman was killed when her car hit a fallen tree; a 79-year-old woman was run over and killed by her husband, who could not see her in the downpour.

Firefighters used a raft to rescue an 8-week-old baby, but it tipped over and tossed everyone into the water. Two firefighters went into the rushing water after the baby, and one of them managed to carry the child to safety.

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

The National Weather Service said that downtown Los Angeles had recorded its wettest 15 consecutive days since record-keeping began in 1877, with a total of 17 inches of rain falling in the period ending Monday. No new storms were in sight for the weekend.

In Orange County south of Los Angeles, about 4,000 people were evacuated along a 3-mile stretch of a rain-swollen creek.

Skies were sunny Monday when the bluff at La Conchita gave way without warning. Rain returned overnight, but yesterday morning the search went on under a sunny blue sky, the kind of day that draws people to the area’s beaches.

“There are a lot of residents here waiting on loved ones, and we can’t give up yet,” said Capt. Conrad Quintana of the Ventura County Fire Department.

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

He screamed: “I have to get my kid. I have to get my kid.”

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