At least 15 people are dead and 160 injured after flooding rain caused powerful mudslides in Santa Barbara County.
The damage was felt most in Montecito, a suburb of Santa Barbara, where at least five of the deaths were reported. Homes came loose from their foundations and were “wiped away by mudflow and debris,” an official told CNN.
The mudslides come just a few weeks after a wildfire in Santa Barbara scorched more than 280,000 acres of land in California’s largest wildfire on record. Burn scars from the fire left parts of Santa Barbara’s hilly terrain particularly vulnerable to erosion.
The rain began shortly after midnight on Tuesday morning and fell as heavy as one inch per hour. By late afternoon, a total of five inches of rainfall was recorded in Ventura County. It was the first major rainfall in southern California’s rainy season.
However the mixture of rainwater and loosened debris quickly became a cement-like consistency, which easily slid down Santa Barbara’s hilly topography.
“You bring that down at 20 miles per hour and it can do a lot of damage,” Dr. Godt of the United States Geological Survey, told The New York Times.
“It was literally a carpet of mud and debris everywhere, with huge boulders, rocks, (downed) trees, power lines, wrecked cars,” Sheriff Bill Brown of Santa Barbara County told local KTLA news. “Lots of obstacles and challenges for rescue personnel to get to homes.”
On Sunday evening, Santa Barbara Country issued a mandatory evacuation order for roughly 7,000 residents in anticipation of the rain, although many chose to remain in their homes, Brown said. More than 30,000 homes and businesses in Santa Barbara were without power on Tuesday morning. At least 300 people are trapped in Montecito’s Romero Canyon neighborhood as debris blocks their way out.
Transportation officials expect a 30-mile portion of Highway 101 between Montecito and Santa Barbara to remain closed at least through Thursday. Weather forecasts predict clear skies through the end of the week.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared an end to California’s five-year drought in April 2017. At the end of December, meteorologists spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the possibility of a drier-than-normal winter season after rain failed to arrive from October through the end of the year.