County Sheriff Bill Brown called the mudslides a “mass casualty incident” as 17 people were killed, 28 were injured and 13 remain missing and unaccounted for.
Authorities haven’t confirmed the names of the dead, but Santa Barbara County fire spokesman Mike Eliason said children are among the victims.
More than 500 first responders and 10 dogs continued to search for people in Santa Barbra County.
Dozens of stranded residents have been rescued by helicopter in areas of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties — some from their vehicles and others from rooftops.
A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew from San Diego helped rescue a family of five and two dogs from the roof of a home in the mudslide’s path in Montecito.
The helicopter lifted the family to safety one or two at a time, beginning with a mother and her child, then 3-year-old girl, a 7-year-old boy and lastly the children’s father.
“The mom was definitely the most nervous and panicked. She was like, ‘the rest of my kids, my kids,'” Petty Officer 3rd Class Billy Arrison said. “She was really worried about the baby, but she was completely fine once they were [inside].”
More than 5 inches of rain have fallen in Ventura County, according to the National Weather Service in Los Angeles, which said rainfall rates were “unprecedented.” A rain gauge at the Carpinteria Fire Department recorded a half-inch of rain in just five minutes.
The heavy rains have been dangerous because vegetation is missing — burned away by the Thomas Fire — that would normally help channel the water and mud flow. Hardened soil left behind from the wildfire repels water, increases stream levels and brings water to areas it typically wouldn’t go.
The Santa Barbara County sheriff said emergency dispatchers received about 600 calls immediately after the rains began early Tuesday. Six homes near Montecito were “wiped away from their foundations” by mudflow and debris, according to a Santa Barbara County fire spokesman.
Floodwaters destroyed about 100 homes and damaged 300 more in Santa Barbara County.
“Deadly runoff of mud, boulders, and debris destroyed homes that lined Montecito Creek near East Valley Road,” Eliason wrote on Twitter.
Television personality Oprah Winfrey, who owns a home in Montecito, awoke Tuesday to a gas-fueled fire in her neighborhood, mud piled deep in her back yard and a neighbor’s house destroyed.
The weather forecast on Wednesday shows sunny skies for the next several days, which might help with rescue efforts.