Seventeen people are dead in Montecito, and officials fear the number will grow, after drenching rain and high winds pummeled Santa Barbara County Monday night and into Tuesday, unleashing rivers of mud and debris from hillsides charred by the Thomas fire.
Numerous people are also missing in the Montecito area, and hospitals have received multiple people with injuries, some of them critical. A 14-year-old girl was among those rescued Tuesday from a destroyed home after being trapped for hours, according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.
Highway 101 is closed from Milpas Road to Seacliff Drive, and a crash at Nojoqui Summit south of Buellton closed the freeway there Tuesday morning, the California Highway Patrol said.
“There have been numerous reports of missing persons,” Mona Miyasato, county chief executive officer, said during a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday morning, which was cut short because of the devastation. “There have been lots of calls for search and rescue. Everyone is out in the field.”
Miyasato asked that residents remain in their homes and not venture out into the areas where flooding and damage are the worst.
She added, “I think the county did what it could issuing evacuation orders yesterday.”
Many rescue operations are underway to remove people trapped in vehicles and homes, and those living in the Summerland and Carpinteria areas are being advised not to use side streets to bypass the closed sections of freeway.
Emergency vehicles need access, and citizens who venture into damaged and closed areas will be putting themselves in danger, officials said.
The county has called for assistance from agencies in other areas to help with searching for missing persons and rescuing those trapped by mud and debris flows, which County Fire officials said are waist-deep in some places.
Access to some areas has been difficult for emergency crews because of downed trees and power lines, according to County Fire.
One structure fire caused by a gas leak has also been confirmed, 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf said.
Wolf also reiterated a warning sent out by the county Monday for people to avoid the mud and debris flows due to potentially toxic chemicals and bacteria that may have been picked up from residences and businesses damaged by the Thomas fire.
Up to 4 inches of rain has fallen in the areas burned by the wildfire east of Santa Barbara, with surrounding areas receiving 1.5 to 3 inches, according to the National Weather Service office in Oxnard.