13 killed in Southern California deluge as rivers of mud wipe out homes

Heavy rains unleashed destructive rivers of mud and debris in Southern California on Tuesday -- leaving at least 13 p...

Posted: Jan 10, 2018 11:52 AM
Updated: Jan 10, 2018 11:52 AM

Heavy rains unleashed destructive rivers of mud and debris in Southern California on Tuesday -- leaving at least 13 people dead, destroying homes and spurring rescues as the flooding forced heavily traveled roads to close.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the death toll could rise. Officials said many of the deaths are believed to be in the coastal Montecito area, where mudflows and floodwater have inundated areas downstream from where the Thomas Fire burned thousands of acres last month.

Death toll could rise in after floodwater and mud wiped away homes, officials say

Region is especially vulnerable to flooding after recent wildfires

At least two dozen people were unaccounted for and authorities rescued at least 50 people in the Montecito area. The Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department is working toward determining whether those "missing" were accounted for in other locations or among those who are deceased.

"It looked like a World War I battlefield," Brown said of the destruction. "It was literally a carpet of mud and debris everywhere, with huge boulders, rocks, down trees, power lines, wrecked cars -- lots of obstacles and challenges for rescue personnel to get to homes."

Latest developments

- Thirteen storm-related deaths were reported in Santa Barbara County, Sheriff Brown said.

- The 101 Freeway in parts of Montecito and Santa Barbara, will remain closed for at least 48 hours after muddy, debris-filled water flooded parts of the seaside roadway, according to Capt. Cindy Pontes with the California Highway Patrol.

- By early Tuesday afternoon, more than 5.5 inches of rain had fallen in parts of Ventura County over two days, the National Weather Service said. In Carpinteria, nearly 1 inch fell in just 15 minutes, the agency said.

- The weather forced the closure of several theme parks, including Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia and SeaWorld in San Diego.

'Call after call' from stranded residents

Before the storm hit, Santa Barbara issued mandatory evacuations for more than 6,000 people, including living in those parts of Carpinteria, Montecito and Goleta, located below areas scorched by wildfires, including the Thomas Fire, county spokeswoman Gina DePinto said.

Voluntary evacuation warnings were in effect for another 20,000 people, including others in those same communities, she said.

Brown said deputies and search and rescue team members went door-to-door Monday conducting evacuations in the mandatory evacuation areas. Those notifications were all made by nightfall, Brown said.

"While some residents cooperated with the evacuations, many did not. Many chose to stay in place, "Brown said.

The sheriff said the storm hit hard around 3 a.m. Tuesday. Between 3 and 6 a.m., dispatchers with the sheriff's office handled more than 600 telephone calls for assistance.

"They received call after call from people who were distressed, stranded in their homes or vehicles and were in need of immediate rescue," Brown said.

He added: "Once daylight came, we had a very difficult time assessing the area and responding to many of those areas to assist those people."

Brown said the mud was "knee-deep" in many places on the roadways and even deeper in the canyons.

Teenager trapped for hours in Montecito

The rain fell in areas charred by recent wildfires, triggering warnings of flash flooding and mudslides because vegetation that otherwise would hold hills together and make the terrain flood-resistant has burned away.

In Montecito, six homes were "wiped away from their foundations" by mudflow and debris, Santa Barbara County fire spokesman Mike Eliason said.

Eliason said firefighters rescued a 14-year-old girl, who had been trapped for hours in a collapsed Montecito home. The girl, coated head to foot in mud, was led by firefighters from the pile of wood and debris that was once a house, a photo from the county fire department shows.

In another part of Montecito, Eliason said he saw "utter devastation."

"There were three houses that were completely knocked off their foundations. Debris and wood everywhere, looking like matchsticks," he said.

Eliason recalled looking at the red band on a radar, indicating heavy rainfall.

"When that hit those hillsides, it just came rushing down," Eliason said. "Time and time again, I found myself waist deep in floodwater.

The mud and debris left roadways and neighborhoods in Montecito unrecognizable.

'Mud came in an instant, like a dam breaking'

Ben Hyatt said a river of mud had crashed through a neighbor's house in Montecito, a community of about 8,000 east of Santa Barbara,

"Apparently, one of their cars ended (up) in their backyard. We have neighbors at (the) top of the street that evacuated to their roof," Hyatt said.

Hyatt said his Montecito house was "surrounded by mud," and a washing machine had drifted into his front yard.

Hyatt said he was awake when power went out during heavy rain around 2:30 a.m. Eventually, he heard a loud swish and banging on the exterior of his house.

"Mud came in an instant, like a dam breaking. (It) surrounded the house, 2 to 3 feet," he said.

"Seems calm now. We feel safe. But definitely stuck here for a bit."

There were several glimmers of hope, as emergency officials rescued stranded residents.

Eliason, the Santa Barbara County fire spokesman, posted photos of firefighters leading people through mud and floodwater to safety.

Also in Montecito, a ruptured gas line led to a fire that consumed a building, Eliason said.

Surveillance camera video appears to show an explosion connected to that fire, said Eric Trautwein, who posted the footage on Twitter.

Cars mired in the muck

Photos of vehicles stuck in mud in Los Angeles County and nearby areas dotted Twitter feeds. One post showed a California Department of Transportation crew trying to help a trapped motorist.

In another, a Los Angeles police squad car was mired in the muck. "Officers were responding to help with evacuations. Within seconds their vehicle was consumed by the mud," the post reads.

'Praying' for Santa Barbara

Oprah Winfrey, who has home in Montecito, said she was "praying for our community again in Santa Barbara."

"Woke up to this blazing gas fire," she posted on social media.

Winfrey also showed photo of mud in her backyard.

"Helicopters rescuing my neighbors. Looking for missing persons. 13 lives lost," she wrote.

More than 1 inch of rain per hour

The rainfall rate of more than 1.5 inches per hour in parts of Southern California overwhelmed the landscape.

About a half inch per hour is enough to start mudslides, said Robbie Monroe of the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

The downpour is overpowering a terrain especially vulnerable in the wake of recent fires.

The Thomas Fire -- the largest wildfire in California's recorded history -- has burned more than 281,000 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties since it began in early December. It was 92% contained, and officials don't expect full containment until later this month.

Montecito and Carpinteria are vulnerable to mudslides because the steep terrain in some places goes from thousands of feet above to sea level to sea level in "a matter of just a few miles," said Tom Fayram, a deputy public works director with Santa Barbara County

"That's definitely at play here. It's just a mess," he said.

Fayram said crews working to clear mud and debris from roadways saw "boulders the size of trucks that came rolling down the hillsides."

"This is a disaster, much worse than the mudslides of 1995," Fayram said. We're trying to get help from federal and state officials."

The region has suffered from years of drought, and officials say they need the rain to regrow plants and trees that help keep the hillsides together and floodproof.

Mudslides are not uncommon to the area and can be deadly.

In January 2005, a landslide struck La Conchita in Ventura County, killing 10 people and destroying or damaging 36 houses.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 453808

Reported Deaths: 6131
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin941381495
Ramsey40509748
Dakota33463350
Anoka31283368
Washington20471234
Stearns18051190
St. Louis13916247
Scott1213098
Wright11756107
Olmsted1073975
Sherburne827868
Carver703139
Clay657684
Rice621170
Kandiyohi556772
Blue Earth546833
Crow Wing489178
Otter Tail463167
Chisago458138
Benton423288
Winona394248
Douglas378466
Nobles374447
Mower372129
Goodhue355362
Polk330660
McLeod327947
Beltrami315048
Morrison314145
Lyon304738
Becker288839
Itasca287143
Isanti284842
Carlton283543
Steele278510
Pine269614
Freeborn253623
Todd233130
Nicollet227938
Brown217434
Mille Lacs215045
Le Sueur213516
Cass210524
Meeker201233
Waseca192816
Wabasha17413
Martin171726
Roseau166317
Hubbard150238
Redwood141027
Houston139814
Dodge13864
Renville138040
Chippewa132332
Cottonwood128918
Fillmore12646
Wadena120218
Rock111912
Aitkin111233
Sibley10947
Faribault108816
Watonwan10688
Pennington101016
Kanabec99318
Pipestone96423
Yellow Medicine94916
Murray9096
Jackson87310
Swift84418
Pope7465
Stevens7078
Marshall70315
Clearwater68714
Lake66315
Lac qui Parle66016
Wilkin6349
Koochiching60310
Lincoln4892
Big Stone4693
Unassigned44568
Grant4388
Norman4258
Mahnomen4147
Kittson37320
Red Lake3204
Traverse2613
Lake of the Woods1961
Cook1150

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 310915

Reported Deaths: 4432
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk46760465
Linn18037279
Scott15838172
Black Hawk14076243
Woodbury13111181
Johnson1228552
Dubuque11615159
Pottawattamie9146115
Dallas907772
Story879438
Cerro Gordo472572
Webster472077
Sioux459657
Warren458039
Clinton457768
Marshall430762
Buena Vista396230
Muscatine395878
Des Moines394943
Plymouth352870
Wapello349898
Jasper331659
Lee324132
Marion308953
Jones274650
Henry267331
Carroll258234
Bremer249848
Crawford234324
Washington222933
Boone222717
Benton213050
Mahaska197637
Jackson194932
Tama190159
Dickinson188329
Kossuth178544
Delaware176036
Clay172021
Wright166624
Fayette165924
Hamilton162230
Buchanan162024
Winneshiek160820
Harrison158162
Hardin156931
Cedar155519
Clayton153849
Butler150924
Page146415
Floyd141436
Cherokee140027
Mills138517
Lyon137533
Poweshiek134924
Hancock131524
Allamakee130930
Iowa127722
Madison123610
Calhoun12349
Grundy122528
Jefferson122125
Winnebago121729
Mitchell116837
Louisa116230
Cass114843
Chickasaw113712
Appanoose112440
Sac112015
Emmet111232
Union111023
Humboldt106619
Shelby105427
Guthrie104224
Franklin103318
Unassigned10110
Palo Alto91711
Montgomery88324
Keokuk86326
Howard85519
Monroe82220
Clarke8108
Pocahontas78111
Ida75930
Davis70121
Greene6977
Adair69620
Monona67018
Lucas66610
Osceola64711
Worth6184
Taylor5999
Fremont5246
Van Buren50215
Decatur4964
Ringgold44811
Audubon4218
Wayne41921
Adams2993
Rochester/St. Mary'S
Clear
21° wxIcon
Hi: 22° Lo: 15°
Feels Like: 15°
Mason City
Partly Cloudy
19° wxIcon
Hi: 23° Lo: 16°
Feels Like: 7°
Albert Lea
Cloudy
18° wxIcon
Hi: 20° Lo: 16°
Feels Like: 11°
Austin
Cloudy
18° wxIcon
Hi: 22° Lo: 16°
Feels Like: 11°
Charles City
Partly Cloudy
21° wxIcon
Hi: 24° Lo: 15°
Feels Like: 9°
Prepare for a chilly night
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events