National Briefs

8 dead in Southern California as rain triggers mudslides

MONTECITO, Calif. (AP) — At least eight people were killed and homes were torn from their foundations Tuesday as downpours sent mud and boulders roaring down hills stripped of vegetation by a gigantic wildfire that raged in Southern California last month.

Rescue crews used helicopters to pluck people from rooftops because debris blocked roads, and firefighters pulled a mud-caked 14-year-old girl from a collapsed Montecito home where she had been trapped for hours.

“I thought I was dead for a minute there,” the girl could be heard saying on video posted by KNBC-TV before she was taken away on a stretcher.

All eight deaths were believed to have occurred in Montecito, a wealthy enclave of about 9,000 people northwest of Los Angeles that is home to such celebrities as Oprah Winfrey, Rob Lowe and Ellen DeGeneres, said Santa Barbara County spokesman David Villalobos. At least 25 people were injured.

The mud was unleashed in the dead of night by flash flooding in the steep, fire-scarred Santa Ynez Mountains. Burned-over zones are especially susceptible to destructive mudslides because scorched earth doesn’t absorb water well and the land is easily eroded when there are no shrubs.

The torrent of mud early Tuesday swept away cars and destroyed several homes, reducing them to piles of lumber. Photos posted on social media showed waist-deep mud in living rooms.

Some residents were unaccounted for in neighborhoods hard to reach because of downed trees and power lines, Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Dave Zaniboni said.

“I came around the house and heard a deep rumbling, an ominous sound I knew was … boulders moving as the mud was rising,” said Thomas Tighe, who discovered two of his cars missing from the driveway. “I saw two other vehicles moving slowly sideways down the middle of the street in a river of mud.”

Authorities had been bracing for the possibility of catastrophic flooding because of heavy rain in the forecast for the first time in 10 months.

Ex-Arizona sheriff, Trump ally Joe Arpaio running for Senate

PHOENIX (AP) — Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was spared a possible jail sentence last year when his political ally President Donald Trump pardoned his criminal conviction for disobeying a judge’s order, announced Tuesday he plans to run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Jeff Flake.

The 85-year-old lawman tweeted he is seeking the post to support Trump’s policies.

“President Trump needs my help in the Senate,” Arpaio added in an email to supporters seeking funds for the race.

Arpaio, who served 24 years as metro Phoenix’s sheriff before suffering a crushing 2016 defeat by an little-known Phoenix police sergeant, would face former state Sen. Kelli Ward in the GOP primary and possibly U.S. Rep. Martha McSally. She has told colleagues that she is planning a Senate run but hasn’t yet made an announcement.

The retired sheriff did not immediately return a phone message left Tuesday by The Associated Press.

Arpaio ‘s re-election defeat came amid a crush of criticism over the $141 million in legal costs that Maricopa County taxpayers footed for defending him in lawsuits over his contentious immigration policies, deaths of inmates in his jails and a child sex abuse case that was botched by his department’s investigators.

He became internationally known for jailing inmates in outdoor tents during triple-digit heat, forcing them to wear pink underwear, conducting dozens of immigration crackdowns over a nine-year period, retaliating against his political enemies and failing to adequately investigate more than 400 sex-crimes complaints that were made to his office.

Arpaio was found last year guilty of criminal contempt of court for intentionally disobeying a federal judge’s 2011 order to stop his traffic patrols that targeted immigrants.

His pardon by Trump in late August gave new life to a politician who left office battered after years of scandals.

Arpaio endorsed Trump in his presidential run and appeared alongside him at 2016 presidential campaign appearances, including a large outdoor event in the lawman’s hometown of Fountain Hills outside of Phoenix.

US says ‘viral attack’ among the theories in Cuba illnesses

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is investigating a range of possibilities beyond “sonic attacks” for the cause of U.S. diplomats’ mysterious illnesses in Cuba, the Trump administration told Congress on Tuesday, including the possibility of a viral attack.

Top State Department officials testifying on Capitol Hill pushed back strongly on suggestions from some lawmakers that Americans had not been attacked in Cuba. A new FBI report said there’s no evidence backing up the initial theory of a sonic weapon.

“I’ve seen the range of what possibly could have taken place, beyond the acoustic element,” said Todd Brown, assistant director for the State Department’s Diplomatic Security service. He said one possibility was that a virus was deliberately deployed to harm Americans, but he offered no evidence for why investigators believed that might be the case.

The U.S. hasn’t publicly presented evidence to show that Americans were attacked in Cuba, and the government in Havana has said repeatedly that it believes nobody was attacked. But State Department officials told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that they had spent months examining all possibilities for how the U.S. Embassy workers grew ill, and that every theory had a major hole — with the exception of deliberate attacks.