CALIFORNIA - Rescuers used dogs and helicopters to search for victims on Wednesday of powerful mudslides which left at least 17 people dead in a southern California community that is also home to major celebrities including Oprah Winfrey.
Heavy rains on Tuesday sent rivers of waist-high mud and debris flowing from the hills into Montecito and other towns in Santa Barbara County northwest of Los Angeles, which are still recovering from last month's ferocious wildfires.
"We are saddened to report that the death toll has now risen to 17," Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told reporters, saying it had been "another extremely challenging day."
At least 28 people were injured, authorities said, while 30,000 remained subject to mandatory evacuation orders.
The US Coast Guard released footage of a couple, their two young children and two dogs being plucked from their roof and hoisted up to a helicopter in baskets.
Coast Guard crews assist in Santa Barbara mudslide rescues
U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Southwest air crews have been working with state and county crews to rescue victims of the mudslides in Santa Barbara, Calif. This video shows a family of five being rescued after their house was overtaken by the mudslide yesterday. The family was transported to a staging area with Santa Barbara County emergency crews.Posted by U.S. Coast Guard on Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Yellow bulldozers were clearing the roads of tons of sticky brown mud in Montecito and other towns as utility workers restored downed power lines.
Talk show host Oprah Winfrey, who has been touted this week as a possible 2020 candidate for the White House, was among those affected by the mudslides.
Winfrey posted a video of herself outside her Montecito mansion wading through near-knee deep mud.
Thanks everyone for your prayers and concern. My property is fine.Some mud , and minor damage that pales in comparison to what my neighbors are going thru. #mudslides/p>Posted by Oprah Winfrey on Wednesday, January 10, 2018
"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.
"Had we still had all the vegetation on the hills it would not have been as much of an issue," Targonia said.
"I have lived here my whole life," said Melissa Ausanka-Crues, a nurse. "My family has had a house here for 30 years and never seen something like this."
Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres was another Montecito resident impacted by the storm.
DeGeneres posted a picture on Twitter of herself standing in mud next to a downed tree near her home.
"This is the street in front of our house," she said. "I don't know anything about our house yet. I'm heartbroken for our community of Montecito."
This is the street in front of our house. I don’t know anything about our house yet. I’m heartbroken for our community of Montecito. I’m devastated for the families who lost loved ones. I’m grateful to all the rescue workers. Please send love to Montecito. pic.twitter.com/TmbqwzMLEz— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) January 10, 2018
- Amazed at the intensity -
Roads were clogged throughout the region with mudflows shutting down more than 50 kilometres of the 101 Freeway on Tuesday and knocking a number of homes from their foundations.
The highest rainfall total was recorded at 13 centimetres in Ventura County, according to the National Weather Service.
Much of the affected area is land scorched by the massive Thomas fire several weeks ago, the second-largest wildfire in California's history.
An evacuation order was issued in a section of the Los Angeles suburb of Burbank, which was hit by a mudslide that pulled cars out of driveways and carried them downstream.
The slide also caused a "significant" gas leak, and repair efforts left homes on the street with no gas, electricity or water.
At Los Angeles International Airport, flooding forced the closure of the customs area in Terminal 2.
The rain was lighter in the desert than in coastal areas, but the downpour shattered a 9 January Palm Springs record of 2.8cm set in 1980, according to the weather service.
The rain had all but vanished by Tuesday evening, but the threat of additional mudslides remained.
The storm came after a 10-month dry spell following torrential rains in January and February of last year.