County officials ordered residents in most of the southeastern corner of Montecito, an unincorporated community east of the city of Santa Barbara, out of their homes for what they said was likely to be one or two weeks to aid the search and recovery efforts.
Councilman Gregg Hart said the recent Thomas Fire and the mudslides have severely tested the community, but that knows the region is in good hands with the array of rescue workers and sophisticated mutual-aid program. Authorities said more than 100 homes had been completely destroyed and another 300 damaged.
A Santa Barbara County fire official, who declined to provide his name, called what he say a scene out of a disaster movie. The most powerful storm in almost a year created hazardous conditions in areas left scorched by recent wildfires prompting several rescues.
(Santa Barbara County Fire Department via Reuters) The Montecito Inn sits in flooded waters and debris after a mudslide in Montecito. She said some missing-person reports are quickly cleared but others take time to resolve.
But when a relative went to the sheriff's office for information, she said, "they told her there was no 319 Hot Springs Road anymore".
The threat of mudslides prompted the county to order 7,000 residents to leave their homes before the rains came and to urge 23,000 others to evacuate voluntarily.
With 4 to 5 inches of rain falling in a matter of hours, mud poured down hills like a river - so powerful that homes were shoved off their foundations or buried up to their rooftops.More news: Houston Health Department confirms 2 flu-related deaths
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The mud flow also prompted the closure of the 101 Freeway.
Firefighters rescue a 14-year-old girl trapped inside a destroyed home during heavy rains in Montecito, Calif., Jan. 9, 2018.
"Inside the debris we're finding bodies", he said.
One man made an emotional trek Wednesday through the mud in Montecito on a frantic search for his mother, then tragically learned she passed away.
At least 20 people - four of whom were in severe or critical condition - were treated for storm-related injuries, said Dr. Brett Wilson, emergency department director at Cottage Health in Santa Barbara.
Montecito area officials are also receiving help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Last month a series of bushfires ravaged the area and wiped out root vegetation, contributing to the instability of the soil and its inability to absorb moisture - priming the area for the devastating mudslides.