Authorities in Santa Barbara County yesterday were still trying to reach new areas and dig into the destruction to find dead, injured or trapped people after a powerful mudflow swept away dozens of homes.
Emergency workers tried to rescue stranded people using dogs and helicopters. Authorities said more than 100 homes had been completely destroyed and another 300 damaged.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the damage was "devastating" and described the area as looking "like a World War One battlefield". Homes were swept from their foundations as heavy rain sent mud and boulders sliding down hills stripped of vegetation by a huge wildfire that raged in Southern California last month. "Following our fire, this is the worst-case scenario", Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason said.
Helicopters were used to pluck more than 50 people from rooftops after downed trees and power lines blocked roads.
Experts anxious about mudslides in the aftermath of the Thomas fire, which incinerated more than 280,000 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. Cars are stuck in the mud, intersections inundated with flood water and in Burbank, a debris basin is partially collapsing.
"We're going to come through this", Hart said.
Footage from Santa Barbara shows entire streets covered in mud and debris as well as flooded roads and highways, which remain closed, covered with rocks and boulders. That left land scorched, and the soil unable to absorb large amounts of water - making it vulnerable to the type of mudslides that engulfed the region on Tuesday.
The mudslides, triggered by heavy rains early on Tuesday, roared into valleys denuded by historic wildfires that struck the area last month. Another Montecito resident said he dug through four feet of mud to rescue a baby he and his wife had heard crying near a neighbor's home.