Hunt For Mudslide Survivors Ends

Searchers examine a crevice after Tammi Belmonte, left center, said her cadaver search dog Boonie, rear right, signaled a possible find after heavy equipment excavated tons of mud covering destroyed homes in La Conchita, Calif., in the predawn hours, Jan. 13, 2005. At least 10 people have been killed in the slide. AP

Authorities say the search is over for survivors of Monday's deadly mudslide in La Conchita, California.

The once 30-foot-deep mud that covered four blocks of homes and killed 10 people is still being removed, and officials say they must clear debris away from every house before they are certain there are no more victims.

"I've been told it's going to take anywhere from 7-10 days to complete the digging," Fire Capt. Danny Rodriguez told CBS Reporter Tim Ryan.

Fifteen homes were destroyed, including that of Jimmie Wallet, whose wife and three young daughters were killed.

"They never had a chance to get out," said Scott Hall, a battalion chief with Ventura County Fire Department. "It appeared they were sitting on a couch unaware of the slide."

Luckier was Diane Hart, the last victim pulled alive from the rubble.

"I thought I was going to die buried alive," she told CBS News Early Show National Correspondent Hattie Kauffman.

"The house started collapsing on me and then it pushed me several yards with all the debris," . "I could feel the boards and the rocks and everything pushing me."

The rains that caused the mudslide in La Conchita also caused flooding throughout the southwest. The heaviest flooding Thursday was concentrated in the area where Nevada, Arizona and Utah meet; 18 homes were destroyed or condemned in St. George, Utah.

As the system moved eastward, it triggered blizzard or near-blizzard conditions in North Dakota. Two people were killed and 13 injured in southern Arkansas' Union County late Wednesday or early Thursday by a violent storm that local officials said was apparently a tornado.

Unwilling to wait any longer and ignoring warnings that more water might be on the way, residents across the Southwest returned to homes damaged by storm-swollen creeks and rivers.

"We've just got a big mess to clean up," said Overton, Nev., resident James Watkins, 50, who spent a sun-splashed day watching a 300-foot expanse of churning brown water recede around his home.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday surveyed the devastation in La Conchita, saying "We have seen the power of nature cause damage and despair, but we will match that power with our own resolve."

The governor said it was important for him to , reports CBS's News Correspondent Sandra Hughes.

People in Ventura County's Piru remained isolated Wednesday, with Highway 126 shut down due to mudslides on both sides of town. Several campers and residents were stranded.

"It brings everyone together," said Richard Aries, 42. "We're relatively lucky — fortunate compared to other people."

The same storm system that caused havoc in California later dumped rain over Nevada, Arizona and Utah, combing with sudden snowmelt to transform rivers into a raging torrent.

At least 18 homes have been lost or condemned because of record flood waters along the Santa Clara River in Utah. Some 100 families are reportedly displaced.

"I just can't believe how fast the current can be, the destruction the water can do," Gunlock resident Roxanne Aplanalp told CBS affiliate KUTV.

The currents ate away the two bridges and the only two ways into Gunlock, leaving residents stranded.

"We don't have a telephone. We don't have water. We don't have electricity," said Lynn Aplanalp.

The Muddy River fanned out over ranches and farms, collapsed riverbanks near downtown Overton and forced an estimated 200 people to flee. Officials warned that flooding remained possible overnight.

"We're expecting a surge," police Sgt. Michael Dailey said after night fell on a second day of on-again, off-again flood advisories. "But we believe the widened channel will be able to handle it."

Authorities said flooding affected at least 100 homes, apartments and motor homes in Overton, a desert hamlet of some 2,000 families about 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas. A police helicopter rescued five people Wednesday in the Overton area, including two children, when they became trapped by rising water.

Northeast of Overton, in the resort town of Mesquite, a feeling of relief set in Wednesday after predictions of surging water along the Virgin River failed to develop.

"We dodged the bullet," said Mayor Bill Nicholes. "We prepared for the worst, and prayed for the best. And the good Lord blessed us."

In nearby Moapa Valley, state officials planned to deliver feed by helicopter to about 700 head of cattle stranded without food for three days.

A few miles north in Beaver Dam, Ariz., residents began returning to some 1,400 homes cut off Tuesday when raging waters washed out a road at the Beaver Dam Wash bridge. Authorities estimated 22 homes in Beaver Dam and nearby Littlefield, Ariz., were damaged or destroyed by flooding.

Back in Nevada, officials in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, declared an emergency in response to flooding and the threat that avalanches posed to 66 homes on Mount Charleston.

Kim Evans, of the Nevada Department of Public Safety, said the National Guard was mobilized to provide help in Lincoln County, where 600 people evacuated due to flooding.

About 60 homes in the Caliente area reported flood damage. The Air Force helped airlift about 140 children and counselors from a state youth corrections facility in Caliente to Panaca.
  • Lloyd Vries

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