At least 17 killed as mudslides swamp elite California suburbs

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The number of missing people has fluctuated since the disaster hit early Tuesday morning and had been as low as 17 on Wednesday.

The one-two punch of fire and downpour-fueled debris flows have debilitated the affluent, picturesque community of about 10,000 people.

The muddy deluge caused by heavy rain has destroyed more than 100 homes, damaging hundreds of other buildings and injuring a further 28 people.

Emergency crews climbed and clawed through thick flows of mud and risky debris Wednesday in some of Southern California's most exclusive neighborhoods, as the death toll from the collapse of rain-soaked hillsides rose to 17 people with more than a dozen others missing.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said at a Thursday news conference that 43 people now are reported missing. He was mistakenly told that it was not, but eventually evacuated anyway, Bates Freed said. But rescuers never really abandon the idea that there might still be people out there, Page said. Fire spokesman MIke Eliason said the girl had been trapped for hours.

"You bring that down at 20 miles per hour and it can do a lot of damage", Dr. Godt said.

Damaged homes, mud and debris near Randall Road.

Up to 500 emergency responders and law enforcement officials are now searching the area for survivors using thermal imaging equipment, helicopters and sniffer dogs.

In Montecito, Oprah Winfrey shared Instagram photos of the deep mud in her backyard and rescue helicopters flying overhead.

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Lowe posted on Twitter that he was "preparing for whatever may come".

He also referenced Oprah's home nearby in another post and recent speculation she may run for president in 2020 after her speech at the Golden Globe Awards.

For residents and emergency workers, still weighing the devastation of the fires, Tuesday was a day of grim rituals resumed: road closings, thousands of evacuations, downed power lines, heroic rescues and a search for the dead.

The death toll remains at 15, with 24 people missing.

Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres was another Montecito resident impacted by the storm.

"I think they just found another body", he said. "I'm devastated for the families who lost loved ones". "Montecito is my sanctuary and where I have made my past couple of records".

Rescuers pulled a 14-year-old girl out of a destroyed home in the 300 block of Hot Springs Drive in Montecito.

Then, this week, it started to rain.

At least 13 people have been killed and dozens of homes have been swept away after mudslides roared down the Californian hillsides. The California Highway Patrol shut down the northbound 101 at Route 126 in Ventura, and at Seacliff, and the southbound 101 was closed just south of Santa Barbara at Milpas.

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"It happened that quickly".

Officials said that generally when mandatory evacuation orders are issued, there is an imminent threat to life or property.

The death toll in weather-related incidents in Santa Barbara County has risen to 15 early Wednesday, after a storm led to risky mudflows in the Thomas Fire burn area.

A wall of water carrying uprooted trees and boulders moved like a river through the residential street.

From above, thrashed areas of town appeared awash in a sea of brown mud, with only the tallest trees standing and some homes buried up to their roofs. Rohter died, but Theresa was rescued, said Michael Van Hecke, headmaster of St. Augustine Academy in Ventura, which Rohter founded in 1994.

A member of the Long Beach Search and Rescue team looks for survivors in a vehicle in Montecito.

In the darkness of Tuesday night's storm, Berkeley "Augie" Johnson heard the sound of a child crying.

The rain had all but vanished by Tuesday evening, but the threat of additional mudslides remained.

One such resident, Marco Farrell, 45, called the slide more frightening than the "biggest, scariest, horrifying monster you've ever dreamed of".

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