Seventeen people were confirmed dead on Thursday after a wall of mud roared down hillsides two days earlier in the scenic area between the Pacific Ocean and the Los Padres National Forest, according to Santa Barbara County authorities.
About 300 people who were stuck in their homes in Montecito's Romero Canyon neighbourhood throughout the debris field were rescued Tuesday night.
On a Facetime call from outside her home, Winfrey described the scene as she waded through a sea of mud.
The rivers of mud caused widespread damage to historic hotels and the homes of celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres.
The body count as of Wednesday was 15, with 25 reported injured and 50 having to be rescued.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said emergency personnel notified residents in the evacuation zone on Monday evening. "Many chose to stay in place", said Brown.
Montecito, S. Barbara Co, CA - At least 15 people have been killed and more than two dozen injured as a vast area northwest of Los Angeles, recently scorched in the state's largest wildfire on record, became the scene of another disaster on Tuesday, as a driving rainstorm, the heaviest in almost a year, triggered floods and mudslides.
Five people remained missing Friday.
"This entire area is a very active rescue and recovery and fix zone right now", he said.
A 14-year-old girl covered in mud was rescued on Tuesday, after being trapped for several hours in a collapsed house in Montecito. The US Coast Guard said it used helicopters Tuesday to collect people from rooftops, including a couple and their three children - an infant, a 3-year-old and a 7-year-old - in Carpinteria. At one point Thursday, only seven people were reported missing, but by late Thursday afternoon, the number had risen to 43.
Brown said some of those on the missing list may simply have left the area before or after the mudslides or may just be out of touch with the family and friends looking for them. She said that her property was fine and that the damage "pales in comparison" to what her neighbors were going through.