At least 17 killed as mudslides swamp elite California suburbs

Image Montecito

Winter rainstorms in Southern California cause deadly mudslides.

"I don't know how the baby survived", Mr Berkeley told the Santa Barbara Independent newspaper.

"I work in L.A. but I consider Montecito my home", she said.

The pair joined a fireman to dig the toddler out, scooping mud from her mouth before she was taken to hospital. "We can't get to them, and they can't get to us". The death toll rose on Wednesday afternoon after two more bodies were found.

"Our coroner's office and our forensic unit are working around the clock to make careful identifications to be absolutely positive that we make the right identifications, and to work with and notify the next of kin".

At least 65 homes in Santa Barbara County were destroyed in the storm and another 446 were damaged, while eight commercial buildings were flattened, according to the latest count by Santa Barbara County Fire Department. "We think somewhere in the debris field".

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

"Last time he saw her was holding onto the door", said Hayden.

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Dozens of boulders sat atop muddied tree branches where at least three homes once stood on a Montecito street as rescuers continued to search for the missing. She said that her property was fine and that the damage "pales in comparison" to what her neighbors were going through. "I was frozen yesterday morning thinking, 'This is a million times worse than that fire ever was'".

Winfrey shared harrowing footage of her backyard following the mudslides' roll through her neighborhood and on Tuesday.

The December wildfires burned away hectares of brush and vegetation that normally would have soaked up heavy rainfall in the hills north of Los Angeles.

Before the storm there were widespread evacuations in and near the mammoth Thomas Fire burn scar.

Crail says the mud rose to the edge of his windows, but did not come inside the house. Emergency services attributed this to "evacuation fatigue" after last month's fires.

The disaster followed a violent rainstorm that dumped up to 15cm of water onto areas north-west of Los Angeles.

Those who have stayed in the area have been warned to boil their tap water before drinking it.

County officials have already ordered residents in most of the southeastern corner of Montecito, an unincorporated community east of the city of Santa Barbara, to leave their homes for what they said was likely to be one or two weeks to aid the search and recovery efforts.

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