California storm, mudslides death toll at 15 as search for survivors continues

A car washed downhill in a rain-driven mudslide are seen in a neighborhood under mandatory evacuation in Burbank California

About 20,000 people have been ordered to evacuate and at least 50 people have been rescued by helicopters in the area, according to Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown. "It was literally a carpet of mud and debris everywhere".

As many as 24 people remain unaccounted for, said Chris Elms, a spokesman for state firefighters.

Montecito and Carpinteria are especially vulnerable to mudslides because the steep terrain in some places goes from thousands of feet above sea level to sea level in just a few miles, said Tom Fayram, a deputy public works director with Santa Barbara County.

Search and rescue efforts have been slow as crews have to navigate through waist-deepmud, fallen trees, boulders and other debris.

"Praying for our community again in Santa Barbara", Winfrey wrote late Tuesday, sharing photos of her mud-soaked backyard and helicopters making rescues in the area.

As the rainwater made its way downhill with gathering force, it pried boulders from the ground and picked up trees and other debris that flattened homes, cars and carried at least one body a mile away.

"This whole mountain has been burned, and anytime water hits it's not shedding into any bushes because they're all burned".

The force of the rushing water, mud and debris can be catastrophic. "I understand that no one really understands what's going on, but it's been really hard being here", resident Anais Berman said.

Many residents were caught off guard.

"(In) four minutes the water was through our wall and in our house, nearly to the second story", he said. "I thought I was dead there for a minute", Lauren Cantin said after workers spent six hours digging her out.

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Authorities in Northern California say a man died after his vehicle was apparently struck by falling rocks in a landslide Tuesday evening in Napa County.

"Everywhere I turned there was chaos".

His neighbors might not have been so fortunate. You talk to one cop, you get one piece of information, you talk to another, and you get another piece. Next to some of the devastated areas sat large estates untouched by the torrent, their lawns still green and the landscaping lush.

"Thank you, guys", Cantin said as she was placed into an ambulance. "Earthquake, drought, fire and flood".

The forecast for Santa Barbara includes mostly clear skies and temperatures in the mid-70s through the weekend. It appeared to be entirely submerged in some areas. Three hundred people are also reportedly stuck in their homes, according to the New York Times.

She said: "It's not just a wealthy community, it's filled with a lot of different types of people from all backgrounds".

A group of up to 300 people are also reportedly trapped in Romero Canyon, east of Santa Barbara. "There were many homes, about 40 to 45 homes, affected by it, a couple homes damaged", Burbank Fire Department Battalion Chief John Owings told local TV news channel KCAL9.

But the worst of the weather has so far slammed southern California.

Billy Grokenberger lives in a part of Montecito that was under a voluntary evacuation order.

Rosenberg and Eltagouri reported from Washington. Between those times, sheriff's office dispatchers handled more than 600 phone calls for help, Brown said. Noah Smith contributed from Los Angeles and Avi Selk contributed from Washington.

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