13 Jan 2018

'Window closing' to find survivors in US mudslide

7:18 pm on 13 January 2018

At least 18 people have been confirmed dead in mudslides in California, as officials admit the window is closing for other survivors to be found alive.

Damage after the deadly mudslides in Southern California.

Damage after the deadly mudslides in Southern California. Photo: AFP / lewis marklin / CrowdSpark

Authorities believe five people are still missing, aged between two and 30.

Four children are among the dead, including a three-year-old girl who died alongside her mother.

Mandatory evacuations have been extended as more than 1200 emergency workers continue to search mud as deep as 4.6m in places.

Drones, military vehicles and search dogs have been brought in to help with rescue and clean-up efforts.

"We've got a window that's closing, but we're still very optimistic. There's been plenty of cases where they've found people a week after," Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason said.

Uncertainty remains around the exact number of people still missing, as authorities warned the figure may continue to fluctuate. On Thursday they believed dozens were unaccounted for, but the number was revised down.

A mandatory evacuation order has been extended, as Santa Barbara's County Sherriff said residents staying behind were hindering recovery efforts.

Gas and electricity supplies were expected to be cut off in the area on Saturday.

The flash flooding happened on Tuesday after the first rain in months hit ground that had been scorched in December's widespread wildfires.

After a wildfire, burned vegetation and charred soil create a water repellent layer which blocks water absorption. Together with the loss of vegetation, this leads to an increased risk of mudslides and floods.

All of those killed died of "multiple traumatic injuries due to flash flood with mudslides," according to the Santa Barbara County Coroner's Office.

The youngest victim, Kailley Benitez, three, died alongside her mother and 10-year-old cousin.

Peerawat Sutthithepn, six, died alongside his step-grandfather, Richard Taylor. The child's father and 2-year-old sister are reported to be among the missing, according to local reports.