SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (CN) – At least 15 people have been confirmed killed in a deadly mudslide in Montecito, a coastal community east of Santa Barbara, after heavy rains passed through an area recently burned by wildfires.
The names of the victims have not been released, according to the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office.
Search efforts continued Wednesday morning where a massive wall of debris destroyed several homes and buried the area in mud. Emergency officials believe at least 20 people are unaccounted for in the community.
Several thousand residents received evacuation orders earlier this week when the first winter storm of 2018 swept through the area. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said emergency personnel notified residents in the evacuation zone on Monday evening.
“While some residents cooperated, many did not. Many chose to stay in place,” said Brown at a Tuesday press conference.
A month ago, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties battled the Thomas Fire, the state’s largest wildfire on record, which – fanned by strong winds and dry brush – burned 281,620 acres. The region is susceptible to debris flow according to the National Weather Service in Los Angeles, which issued flash flood warnings ahead of the storm.
Mud blocked Highway 101 along the Pacific Coast, and search and rescue teams are working their way to about 300 people trapped in their neighborhood in Montecito where the roads are inaccessible, according to Brown.
The forecast for Santa Barbara includes mostly clear skies and temperatures in the mid-70s through the weekend.