Heavy rains early Tuesday caused rivers of mud and debris to run down from hillsides in Santa Barbara County, demolishing homes in the affluent seaside community of Montecito weeks after wildfires in the area. Several people have died in Santa Barbara County, but it's unclear how many were in Montecito.
One resident, Benjamin Hyatt, told CNN that his neighbors evacuated to their roof, and his own house was "surrounded by mud".
Celebrities who have properties in the area have also been affected.
Talk show host Oprah Winfrey said she was praying for people caught up in the devastation, sharing pictures of mud in her back garden and a video of a helicopter which had been rescuing her neighbours. Sheriff deputies and other first responders had to cautiously pick through debris to access shattered homes.
"Part of the problem with this is the fire created a situation where the dirt was able to wash down", said Richard Targonia, a resident of nearby Carpinteria.
"The water was moving at 15 miles an hour, taking everything in its wake, dropping boulders and debris, clogging culverts, knocking out pipes", said state Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson.
"Had we not gone over there, I don't think that kid would have [survived]", he added.
Roy Rohter, 84, and his wife, Theresa, were swept from their Montecito home, the headmaster said. "I'm glad we got it out but who knows what else is out there". I am relieved that the federal disaster declaration has been extended to include this mudslide, which will clear the way for additional federal assistance to our community. Several roads were closed, including the major Highway 101 which authorities say will not be reopened until Monday.
"It's total. There's mud inside all the way in".
As the rainwater made its way downhill with gathering force, it pried boulders from the ground and picked up trees and other debris that flattened homes, cars and carried at least one body a mile away.
About 30,000 residents were under evacuation orders. "Although we knew that this was coming you couldn't help but be amazed at the intensity of the storm". Authorities said more than 100 homes had been completely destroyed and another 300 damaged.
The mudslides were triggered by torrential downpours that unleashed rain on the region, which was hit by last month's mammoth Thomas Fire - the largest wildfire ever recorded in California. The torrent arrived suddenly and with a sound some likened to a freight train, as water carrying rocks and trees washed away cars and trashed homes.
"This means that flooding and debris flows are imminent or occurring in these areas", Santa Barbara County officials announced. One rain gauge recorded nearly an inch in less than 15 minutes.
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