California Mudslides Kill 15 in Areas Wrecked by Wildfires

Image Montecito

Earlier, officials said just eight people were unaccounted for.

About 1,250 emergency workers raced against the clock to find survivors with drones, heavy equipment and sniffer dogs in the rescue and clean-up efforts, the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services said.

The fires burned most vegetation, leaving ideal conditions for the latest tragedy to unfold.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said: 'Right now our assets are focused on determining if anyone is still alive in any of those structures that have been damaged'.

Berkeley Johnson, a Montecito resident who narrowly escaped the onslaught that wiped out his home, made the life-saving discovery Tuesday, Santa Barbara City Fire spokeswoman Amber Anderson told TIME.

At least 25 people were injured, 50 or more had to be rescued by helicopters, and an undetermined number of others were missing, the authorities said.

Among the damaged properties were historic hotels and the homes of celebrities, including media mogul and actress Oprah Winfrey and talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres, who both live in the upscale hillside community of Montecito.

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In some neighborhoods still bearing the scars of the Thomas Fire, houses were completely destroyed while others nearby were untouched.

Residents of the mudslide-hit area were assessing their damaged homes, with some grateful their properties had survived.

According to some reports, more than 160 people were transported to hospitals for storm-related injuries.

The number of dead could climb as crews search through mud and debris that covered about 30 square miles.

U.S. Highway 101, a crucial link between Ventura and Santa Barbara, was so overwhelmed by mud and debris that authorities announced it will remain closed until at least Monday.

Pontes said there was a water main break Tuesday at Olive Mill Road that flooded the freeway and water and debris is still coming down onto 101. "It wasn't a trickle", said William Johnston, who lives in a retirement community down the street. Nearly the entire community - about 10,000 people - is now under mandatory evacuation orders, which could last "one to two weeks", according to the Santa Barbara County fire chief.

"While some residents cooperated with the evacuations, many did not". They then issued a county-wide alert at 3:51 a.m., when the debris flow was already starting. "Power lines were down, high-voltage power lines, the large aluminum poles to hold those were snapped in half". Because hundreds of thousands of acres were charred in the fires, the influx of water has nowhere to go.

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