Thirteen Dead in Powerful Storm, Mudslides in Santa Barbara County

Mud and debris swept through Montecito overnight after steady downpours in an area ravaged by a wildfire in December

What to Know

  • Thirteen people were killed in mudslides and flooding in and around Montecito
  • Rescuers used helicopters to hoist people to safety
  • More rain is expected into Wednesday morning

Thirteen people are dead following a powerful overnight storm that swept through Santa Barbara County and unleashed flooding and mudslides that carried boulders and debris through neighborhoods.

The damaging mud and debris flows, which ruptured a gas line and closed part of the 101 Freeway and other roads, slammed through Montecito early Tuesday. At least 25 people were injured and several homes were swept off their foundations by powerful floodwaters. Search dogs worked on rubble piles and helicopter crews surveyed the area from above, looking for victims and lifting them to safety in the community northwest of Los Angeles.

"We're performing multiple rescues. There will be more," Santa Barbara County Fire Department Capt. Dave Zaniboni said, adding that some of those brought to safety were buried in mud.

There was a backlog of scores of callers requesting help.

Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Amber Anderson said helicopters are being used for rescues because roads are blocked by downed trees and power lines. at least 50 helicopter hoist rescues were reported by midday.

The mud flow also prompted the closure of the 101 Freeway. All major roads connected to the 101 Freeway were also closed near Montecito.

The freeway looked like a river near Olive Mill Road, where water running off from Montecito Creek flooded the road. John Rios lives near the creek that swelled overnight.

"It took everything in its path," Rios said. "There's really not much of anything left.

The debris and mud flows were first reported along with a house fire before 4 a.m. on the 800 block of Park Hill Avenue, according to Ventura CHP. Officials later confirmed the fire was related to a gas leak that was caused by the debris flow.

The flooding comes just weeks after the Thomas fire burned nearly 282,000 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, stripping hillsides of vegetation needed to stem water runoff during rainstorms. Burn areas are more susceptible to flooding because rain bounces off the barren surface instead of being absorbed into the soil.

The maximum rainfall occurred in a 15-minute span starting at 3:30 a.m. near the Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria areas of Santa Barbara County. Montecito got more than a half-inch in five minutes, while Carpinteria received 0.86 inches in 15 minutes.

Flooding and mudslides also blocked roads in parts of Los Angeles County, shutting down major routes. Snow fell in Southern California's mountains as storms moved across the state.

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