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Atmospheric river: Floodwaters sweep away 5-year-old as death toll climbs to 17

Tuesday night First Alert weather forecast with Paul Heggen
Tuesday night First Alert weather forecast with Paul Heggen 04:24

SAN MIGUEL  -- Turbulent flood waters forced rescue divers to call off their search late Monday for a 5-year-old boy who was swept away in the San Marcos Creek outside of San Miguel.

Cal Fire San Luis Obispo County Battalion Chief Travis Craig told the San Luis Obispo Tribune the boy was in a vehicle with his mother when it became disabled in the rapidly rising waters during Monday's deluge.

A roughly seven-hour search for the missing boy turned up only his shoe before officials called it off as water levels were too dangerous for divers.

The boy's mother was driving a truck when it became stranded just before 8 a.m. near Paso Robles, a small city inland from California's central coast, according to Tom Swanson, assistant chief of the Cal Fire/San Luis Obispo County Fire Department.

Bystanders were able to pull the mother out of the truck, but the boy was swept out of the vehicle and downstream, likely into a river, Swanson said. There was no evacuation order in the area at the time.

The search for the boy was called off around 3 p.m. because the current and rising water levels of the Salinas River were too dangerous for divers.  

The boy has not been declared dead, said spokesperson Tony Cipolla of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office.  

At least 17 people have died from storms that began late last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a visit to the scenic town of Capitola on the Santa Cruz coast that was hard hit by high surf and flooding creek waters last week. The deaths included a pickup truck driver and motorcyclist killed Tuesday morning when a eucalyptus tree fell on them on Highway 99 in the San Joaquin Valley near Visalia, the California Highway Patrol said.

"We've had less people die in the last two years of major wildfires in California than have died since New Year's Day related to this weather," Newsom said. "These conditions are serious and they're deadly."

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