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.Authorities rescued about 50 people in the Montecito area but continued to search for the missing. The destruction "looked like a World War I battlefield," Brown said.
• Thirteen storm-related deaths were reported in Santa Barbara County, Sheriff Brown said. • The 101 Freeway between 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.
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.
Thousands ordered or encouraged to evacuate
Knowing this week's rains likely were trouble, officials ordered evacuations for thousands of people ahead of time.In Santa Barbara County, more than 6,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders Monday, ncluding residents in parts of Carpinteria, Montecito and Goleta, located below areas scorched by the wildfires over the past year and a half, 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.Dry weather returns to the region on Wednesday, when crews will be focusing on cleanup and recovery.
CNN's Judson Jones, Darran Simon and Paul Vercammen contributed to this report.