Crews search for residents missing, stranded amid Southern California slides

A view from the air in Montecito, Calif., shows areas that had been roadways, driveways, and homes that are unrecognizable due to the large amount of mud and debris flows from heavy rains. Photo courtesy of Ventura County Aviation Unit/Twitter

By Susan McFarland – UPI

A number of residents in Southern California are unaccounted for, after a powerful and deadly storm caused massive debris flows that wiped away homes and flooding that prompted rescues all over the Los Angeles area.

Officials said Wednesday search and rescue efforts are going on in Santa Barbara County to locate people who may be alive and trapped.

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.

More than 5 inches of rain has 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.

So far, at least 13 people have died as the result of the severe weather and its impact on the greater Los Angeles area. The toll could rise in the coming days.

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.

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.

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