'I thought I was dead': California teen found alive under debris

'I thought I was dead': California teen found alive under debris

- in US

MONTECITO, Calif. — Chaos swept across California’s Santa Barbara County on Tuesday after a powerful overnight storm hammered the region with heavy rains, leading to the deaths of at least 13 people — and a dramatic rescue of a girl pinned by debris, authorities said.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown called it “a very somber day,” and said the 13 deaths were due to the storm.

“While we hope it will not, we expect that this number will increase as we continue to look for people who are still missing and unaccounted for,” Brown said.

Among the hardest hit areas was Montecito, a wealthy community sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean to the south and the Santa Ynez Mountains to the north, where “massive” runoff sent mud and detritus slamming into homes, said Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason.

Debris ruptured a gas line in one neighborhood, causing structure fires, and there were 50 rescues by helicopter and dozens more by crews on the ground by Tuesday afternoon, officials said.

Related: Mudslide, flood threat prompts evacuations in Southern California

In one instance, a 14-year-old Montecito girl was saved from a “tangled mess of a house” that was swept away by raging floodwaters, Eliason said.

Photos: Rivers of mud sweep through wildfire burn areas in California

The teen — later identified as Lauren Cantin — was discovered when firefighters using dogs in the search heard a scream. It was difficult to hear as the rain continued to fall, they said, but they pinpointed the area where the noise emanated and began to dig.

Using the jaws of life and other tools, rescuers sheared off debris from around Cantin. They worked for over six hours before freeing her Tuesday morning.

“I thought I was dead there for a minute,” Cantin, covered in sludge as she was brought out, told rescuers.

The girl was able to stand and walk with some assistance and was brought to a local hospital.

“To be able to have her come out safely and as unscathed as she was, it was pretty phenomenal,” said Andy Rupp, a Montecito Fire Protection District firefighter.

Image: Montecito rescue

Firefighters rescue a 14-year-old girl Tuesday after she was trapped for hours inside a destroyed home in Montecito.