At least 13 people are now confirmed dead and several others are still missing, after heavy rain at the site of a recent fire in southern California triggered flooding and mudflows, officials confirmed on Tuesday.
“We have had a very challenging day,” said Yaneris Muniz, a spokeswoman for Santa Barbara county, adding that search and rescue operations are ongoing.
Most of the fatalities occurred in the Montecito area of Santa Barbara county, below the burn area of the Thomas fire that erupted last month, she told dpa.
Mud and debris flows are shallow landslides, consisting of material that is wet enough to flow rapidly, according to the US Geological Survey.
They occur when a large amount of rain hits very dry areas in what the Los Angeles Times dubbed California’s “drought-to-deluge” weather cycle.
The “debris flow,” which included trees, power lines and dirt, blocked roads and swept away homes, was set off by heavy rains that started overnight.
There were at least 50 confirmed rescues, some 25 people were injured and several people are still missing, said Muniz.
A 14-year-old girl was rescued from a destroyed home in the city after she was trapped for hours. The Santa Barbara county Fire Department showed pictures and videos on their Twitter feed of the rescue and of homes destroyed by mud rushing down streets.
The Thomas fire broke out on December 4 and scorched about 1,100 square kilometres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. It destroyed 1,063 homes, businesses and structures, according to the US Forest Service.
The heavy rain is expected to taper off across southern California by Wednesday morning and the Flash Flood Watch for Santa Barbara County has been cancelled, according to the US National Weather Service.
Montecito is the home of Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres and several other celebrities.
“I’ve love being part of the Montecito community. I send love to all the families and the amazing rescue workers braving these mudslides,” DeGeneres wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department lifted all mandatory evacuation orders on Tuesday for several canyons affected by the so-called Creek Fire, which has burned through 63 square kilometres in the mountains near Slymar, and areas impacted by the 2016 Fish fire, just north west of Los Angeles.