At least 13 people were killed and Tuesday when a rainstorm sent mud and debris coursing through Montecito neighborhoods and left rescue crews to scramble through clogged roadways and downed trees to search for victims.
The deluge that washed over Santa Barbara County early Tuesday was the worst-case scenario for a community that was ravaged by the Thomas fire only a few weeks earlier. In just a matter of minutes, pounding rain overwhelmed the south-facing slopes above Montecito and flooded a creek that leads to the ocean, sending mud and massive boulders rolling into residential neighborhoods, according to Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason
At least 25 other people were injured, authorities said at an afternoon press conference. Crews rescued 50 people by air and dozens more from the ground.
“It’s going to be worse than anyone imagined for our area,” Eliason said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Following our fire, this is the worst-case scenario.”
The deaths came after a heavy band of rain struck around 2:30 a.m., causing “waist-high” mudflows, according to Kelly Hoover, a spokeswoman for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office. She could not offer any specifics about the deceased.
The mudslide struck a section of the city that is south of the Thomas fire’s burn area and was not subject to a mandatory evacuation, Eliason said. Rescue personnel have yet to even make it north of Highway 192, which is closer to soil scorched by last month’s wildfire. Burned areas are less capable of absorbing water, making them even more susceptible to flooding and mudslides.
Emergency crews spent the first hours of light making rescues in voluntary evacuation zones near Montecito Creek north of U.S. 101.
In the 300 block of Hot Springs Road, crews rescued six people and a dog after four homes were destroyed. The mud lifted one home off its foundation and carried it into trees, where it then collapsed, Eliason said. Firefighters used the jaws of life to cut their way into the home where a firefighter heard muffled cries for help from a 14-year-old girl, Eliason said.
A rescue dog pinpointed the girl’s location and two hours later, the mud-covered girl was pulled free. A second 14-year-old girl was also rescued from the same neighborhood and carried from ankle-high mud in a basket by half a dozen firefighters.
The U.S. Coast Guard also sent rescue helicopters into the area Tuesday morning, hoisting several people from collapsed homes or rooftops that stood above swirling mud and water. Rescue personnel were also able to save a young boy who was swept more than half a mile south from his house after the building was lifted from its foundation in Montecito, authorities said.
The boy was found alive under a U.S. 101 overpass, authorities said. But his father remains unaccounted for.
Thousands evacuated as first major rainstorm in a year hits Southern California In Los Angeles County, there was “mudslide activity” on Country Club Drive in Burbank, where police ordered evacuations of all homes east of Montana on Tuesday morning. The police department released footage of water surging across a roadway and urged people not to attempt to drive over it. Some vehicles were picked up and moved by the surge, and a few homes suffered minor damage, but no one had been injured as of 1 p.m., according to Sgt. Derek Green, a Burbank police spokesman.
The torrent of mud and debris sheared at least three fire hydrants, pumping another 130,000 gallons of water onto the debris flow, said Bill Mace, an assistant general manager of water systems for Burbank Water and Power. The department was able to cut off the pressure to each hydrant but 14 homeowners will be without water for at least two days, Mace said.
Country Club Drive residents Allie Vonnacher, 17, and her mom, Heidi Donato-Fennell, 42, said they awoke to the site of several cars flowing down the street, along with power lines, trees and mailboxes.
“It’s just surreal how powerful nature is,” Donato-Fennell said. “You just hope it stays contained in the street and it doesn’t become life threatening.”
Surges also washed out Topanga Canyon Boulevard north of Pacific Coast Highway, and sections of the 110 Freeway were closed because of flooding. The Los Angeles Fire Department had to launch a swift-water rescue to aid a man and a dog trapped in rising water near the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area, and an LAPD cruiser became mired in a debris flow on La Tuna Canyon Road, according to authorities. The officer was uninjured and walked out of the vehicle. The cruiser was in the process of being dug out of the mud with a backhoe early Tuesday.
International travelers arriving at Los Angeles International Airport also had to be diverted from Terminal 2 on Tuesday morning, after the customs area became flooded, the airport said on Twitter.
The CHP also said heavy rains likely contributed to a crash that left one person dead on Highway 126 in Ventura County, about two miles from the Los Angeles County line, on Monday afternoon. One woman died and two others were injured in the five-car crash, the agency said.
The NWS was reporting rainfall totals of up to five inches in Ventura County and 3.3 inches in Santa Barbara County as of 11 a.m. Nearly 1½ inches of rain had fallen in Bel-Air, which could be susceptible to mudslides and debris flow because of damage caused by the Skirball fire last month.
The storm spared some areas that were affected by last month’s blazes. Early Tuesday afternoon, evacuation orders for neighborhoods in the burn areas of the Creek and Fish fires were lifted, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Shiach wore a Navy raincoat as he walked Archie, his 3-year-old West Highland terrier, down Sycamore Canyon Road on Tuesday morning.
Amber Anderson with the Santa Barbara Incident Management Team said there were about 75 people who called for help for evacuations.
Marc Phillips realized he should have listened to emergency officials as he trudged down East Valley Road in mud-soaked jeans.
“They were right” he said, pointing to a place where residences had been knocked from their foundations. “It looks like there was never a house there, but it was.”