California mudslides kill at least 15 people and wreck wealthy suburbs

Mike Eliason  Santa Barbara County Fire Department

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff Office did not immediately comment. Oprah Winfrey also has a property in Montecito that is reportedly worth almost $90 million.

Some of the worst damage was on Montecito's Hot Springs Road, where the unidentified girl was rescued and residents had been under a voluntary evacuation warning.

At Los Angeles International Airport, flooding forced the closure of the customs area in Terminal 2.

There were mixed reports about how many were still missing, with the number jumping from 17 to 48, according to Associated Press.

Winfrey, who lives in the affluent Santa Barbara enclave of Montecito, looked sullen as she carefully trod through her yard, cluttered with fallen tree branches and other debris.

Police described the ground situation as a "World War I battlefield scene".

It made for a nightmare morning commute as cars and trucks on several major roads got stuck in the mud.

Santa Barbara fire Capt. Gary Pitney said the likelihood is increasing that rescue crews will be finding bodies instead of survivors at this point.

Around 7,000 residents above Montecito closer to the fire zone were the focus of the evacuation order, reported the Los Angeles Times.


Talk show host Oprah Winfrey, who has been touted this week as a possible 2020 candidate for the White House, was among those affected by the mudslides.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the death toll could rise.

The pair joined a fireman to dig the toddler out, scooping mud from her mouth before she was taken to hospital.

Heavy rains pre-dawn on Tuesday had sent rivers of mud tumbling down hillsides destroying 100 homes and killing 17. Along Montecito's Coast Village Road, the mudslide overturned trees and covered the pavement.

The courtyard of the 90-year-old Montecito Inn, built by silent movie actor Charlie Chaplin, was filled with a thick crust of debris driven by the slides.

The rain fell at more than 1.5 inches per hour at one point early Tuesday in parts of Southern California.

Downtown San Francisco received a rain record of 80 mm on Monday, breaking the old mark of 1872. Locations downhill and downstream from the burn scar left by a wildfire are susceptible to flash flooding, debris flow and mudslides, according to the National Weather Service.

Road closed: United States 101 in parts of Montecito and Santa Barbara will remain closed for at least 48 hours because of the muddy debris covering it, authorities said Tuesday.

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