Fire Chief Pat McElroy Calls Deadly Mudslides a 'Santa Barbara Tragedy'

Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published broadcast rewritten or redistributed

Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published broadcast rewritten or redistributed

Communities in Santa Barbara County, like Montecito, located below the burned area, are under siege again as mudslides crushed cars and ripped homes from their foundations this week.

Meanwhile, the Thomas fire that denuded Santa Barbara's hillsides - the largest wildfire in California's recorded history - was finally, on Friday, reported 100 percent contained.

The alert sent by Santa Barbara County officials to all those in mandatory and voluntary evacuation areas went out around 3:50 a.m. Tuesday, Rob Lewin, the county's emergency management director said Thursday.

"This means that flooding and debris flows are imminent or occurring in these areas", Santa Barbara County officials announced. Local rescue crews, using borrowed helicopters from the US Coast Guard, worked to airlift them out, officials said.

The threat of mudslides prompted the county to order 7,000 residents to leave their homes before the rains came and to urge 23,000 others to evacuate voluntarily. Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Amber Anderson told reporters some 1,250 emergency workers were at work Friday, slogging through soupy mud and uncertain footing to search for anyone who is trapped. Images in Montecito revealed overturned vehicles caked in mud, along with trees ripped from the ground right near people's homes. Pounding rain weakened south-facing slopes above Montecito and flooded a creek, sending mud and huge rocks rolling into housing areas. Firefighters struggled through the mud to pull a muck-covered 14-year-old girl out of the ruinds of a home in Montecito, norrthwest of Los Angeles.

Cottage Hospital said it was treating 12 remaining patients, four of whom were in critical condition.

Resident Berkeley Johnson said he fled to his roof as the slides destroyed his home before finding a baby on a neighbouring property. "Although we knew that this was coming you couldn't help but be amazed at the intensity of the storm".

Among the residents of Montecito, an unincorporated community northwest of Los Angeles, is Oprah Winfrey. On Tuesday, she took to Instagram and showed photos of the deep mud in her backyard and video of rescue helicopters flying over her house.

Last month a series of bushfires ravaged the area and wiped out root vegetation, contributing to the instability of the soil and its inability to absorb moisture - priming the area for the devastating mudslides. Erik Ortiz reported from NY.

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