17 dead, dozens may be missing from California mudslides

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At least 13 people are dead and more than 20 are injured in California from weather-related incidents, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday. The southern part of the state has been drenched with severe rain just weeks after several fires tore through the area.

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Flash flooding, debris flow and mudslides are punishing the communities hit hard by the Thomas and La Tuna fires, prompting “dozens and dozens” of rescues on the ground, a spokesperson from the Santa Barbara County Fire Department told ABC News.

PHOTO: Aerial view of Montecito, Calif., where mud and debris covers roads, homes and everything in its path following heavy rains, Jan. 9, 2018. VCAirUnit/Twitter
Aerial view of Montecito, Calif., where mud and debris covers roads, homes and everything in it’s path following heavy rains, Jan. 9, 2018.

Many more are feared to be dead and buried beneath the mud, a California fire crew who has conducted up to 70 rescues alone told ABC News Tuesday afternoon.

One of those killed was Roy Rohter, the founder of the St. Augustine Academy in Ventura, according to the Catholic school’s headmaster, Michael Van Hecke, the Associated Press reported. Rohter’s wife was injured by the mudslide.

PHOTO: Mud and debris flow on the roadway due to heavy rain in Montecito. Calif., Jan. 9, 2018. Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP
Mud and debris flow on the roadway due to heavy rain in Montecito. Calif., Jan. 9, 2018.

Montecito alone saw heavy rainfall in a short amount of time. About a third of the rain that has fallen in the last 24 hours in Montecito fell in just 5 minutes, according to the National Weather Service.

Because hundreds of thousands of acres were charred in the fires, the influx of water has nowhere to go.

Some homes in Montecito’s affluent community have been ripped from their foundations as a result of the torrential conditions. Several dozen homes have been destroyed or damaged, officials said.

The Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management said Tuesday night the city of Montecito would be without potable water, electricity and sanitation “for an extended period of time.”

Local fire officials reported rescuing several people in the area, including a mother and her daughter who were caked in mud. About two dozen people in Santa Barbara County are unaccounted for, officials said.

PHOTO: Mud fills the interior of a car destroyed in a rain-driven mudslide in a neighborhood under mandatory evacuation in Burbank, Calif., Jan. 9, 2018. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Mud fills the interior of a car destroyed in a rain-driven mudslide in a neighborhood under mandatory evacuation in Burbank, Calif., Jan. 9, 2018.

The Claffey family in Carpinteria was forced to evacuate its home last month. After moving back in, family members were told to evacuate again because of the rain.

“If our house was flooded it would be devastating. Absolutely devastating,” Maureen Claffey told ABC News.

Another family told ABC News that they witnessed neighbors floating away from their homes on mattresses and others holding on to trees for hours in a whirlpool of frigid mud.

PHOTO: Firefighters search for trapped people in Montecito, Calif, Jan. 9, 2018, after mud and debris destroyed buildings following heavy rains. @EliasonMike
Firefighters search for trapped people in Montecito, Calif, Jan. 9, 2018, after mud and debris destroyed buildings following heavy rains.

The record rains started coming down on Monday, soaking northern cities like San Francisco and Sacramento. First responders put on skies to help the stranded since many roads and thruways have become raging rivers.

A 14-year-old girl was “trapped for hours” in mud-soaked rubble on Hot Springs Road and then pulled to safety in a triumphant moment.

#CAStorm – Firefighters rescue a girl who was trapped in Montecito following heavy rain and mudflow in the 300 block of Hot Springs Road. pic.twitter.com/tfUw0cDbXx

— SBCFireInfo (@EliasonMike) January 9, 2018

Power in the area has also been cut, according to ABC News affiliate KEYT.

MAJOR FLOODING throughout Montecito. Multiple access points closed by trees, mud, rocks. Fire trucks with limited access. pic.twitter.com/RRHtDUYWyT

— John Palminteri (@KEYTNC3JohnP) January 9, 2018

More rescues were expected and evacuations are rising, officials said.

PHOTO: A car is stuck in the mud in La Tuna Canyon after heavy rain caused mudslides in California, Jan. 9, 2018. Los Angeles Police Department
A car is stuck in the mud in La Tuna Canyon after heavy rain caused mudslides in California, Jan. 9, 2018.

The worst of the storm will move inland, with the heavy rain letting up sometime around dinner time or even before, according to the National Weather Service. Flash flood watches will remain in effect across portions of Southern California, including Los Angeles and Santa Barbara until then.

PHOTO: With a burned car in the foreground a worker finishes up erosion control efforts in the wildfire damaged Coffey Park neighborhood, Jan. 8, 2018, in Santa Rosa, Calif. Eric Risberg/AP
With a burned car in the foreground a worker finishes up erosion control efforts in the wildfire damaged Coffey Park neighborhood, Jan. 8, 2018, in Santa Rosa, Calif.

So far, rainfall totals Tuesday afternoon range from 3 to 5 inches in the mountains in Ventura County and 2 to 3 inches in the mountains of Santa Barbara County, with higher totals within the areas burned by the Thomas fire in both counties.

Rainfall rates exceeding one inch per hour at times contributed to the damaging mudslides in portions of Southern California.

PHOTO: Another round of steady rain, heavy at times, is now moving across Santa Barbara/Ventura County and will last for a couple more hours.ABC News
Another round of steady rain, heavy at times, is now moving across Santa Barbara/Ventura County and will last for a couple more hours.

PHOTO: There are still Flash Flood Watches in effect across portions of southern CA, including Los Angeles and Santa Barbara through this evening.ABC News
There are still Flash Flood Watches in effect across portions of southern CA, including Los Angeles and Santa Barbara through this evening.

The weather has snarled drivers and first responders attempting to aid storm victims.

Routes in and out of Santa Barbara have been shut down from the south, and various roadways have been swallowed by the floods.

The only way into some of the washed-out homes is by air.

Ventura’s Air Squad 6 dedicated helicopters to join Santa Barbara in the rescue effort.

Air Squad 6 assisting Santa Barbera County with rescues in the Carpinteria flood area. Working with copters from Santa Barbera and Coast Guard. @VCFD@VCSOVentura@SBARBARAFIRE@uscoastguard@Venturaoespic.twitter.com/Ky2IextxJt

— VenturaCoAirUnit (@VCAirUnit) January 9, 2018

Officials told ABC News they’ve been called to locations but they’re also stuck like thousands of motorists.

Excessive flooding and debris made some parts of Santa Barbara impassable.

Stranded drivers caught up in the rising water levels were being plucked from their vehicles to safer, dryer ground by emergency personnel relying on mostly aviation transportation.

The Santa Barbara County Fire Department released photos of U.S. Route 101 that was flooded with runoff water from Montecito Creek and debris and mudflow blocking the railway for the main line of the Union Pacific Railroad through Montecito.

PHOTO: US 101 Freeway at the Olive Mill Road overpass flooded with runoff water from Montecito Creek and blocked with mudflow and debris following heavy rains in Montecito, Calif., Jan. 9, 2018. Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Dept. via EPA
US 101 Freeway at the Olive Mill Road overpass flooded with runoff water from Montecito Creek and blocked with mudflow and debris following heavy rains in Montecito, Calif., Jan. 9, 2018.

PHOTO: People walk through a crossing for the main line of the Union Pacific Railroad blocked with debris from mudslides following heavy rains in Montecito, California, January 9, 2018. MIKE ELIASON/SANTA BARBARA COUNTY FIRE via EPA
People walk through a crossing for the main line of the Union Pacific Railroad blocked with debris from mudslides following heavy rains in Montecito, California, January 9, 2018.

Highway 101 has been closed in both directions due to the mud, Santa Barbara County officials said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon. While they hope to have it reopened within 48 hours, officials admitted that the time frame may be optimistic.

And in creeks and other waterways, the treacherous floodwaters were moving at around 15 mph.

An additional 1 to 2 feet of snow is expected in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

PHOTO: Mud fills the living room of Mary Longs home in Santo Tomas Lane in Montecito, Calif., Jan. 9, 2018. Mary Long via KEYT
Mud fills the living room of Mary Long’s home in Santo Tomas Lane in Montecito, Calif., Jan. 9, 2018.

Moving into the Plains

The storm system moves into the Great Plains on Wednesday and Thursday with winter storm watches and warnings already issued from Colorado to Wisconsin.

Locally, 6 to 12 inches are possible and this could be the biggest snowstorm of the season for places like the Twin Cities.

PHOTO: The storm hitting California will move over the Rockies overnight/Wednesday morning and help develop a winter storm for the central US late Wednesday into Thursday. ABC News
The storm hitting California will move over the Rockies overnight/Wednesday morning and help develop a winter storm for the central US late Wednesday into Thursday.

South of the storm, mild air could bring thunderstorms from Memphis to St. Louis.

January thaw in the East

Further east, a thawing has begun.

It’s about 20 to 30 degrees warmer from Chicago to New York City than it was this past weekend as temperatures rise.

By Thursday, Chicago and Cleveland will be approaching 50 degrees for the first time since the middle of December.

PHOTO: On Wednesday, snow will be falling across portions of the Rockies and northern Plains. Heavy snow will be possible at times. By tomorrow evening, its snowing from Aspen, CO to Scottsbluff, NE and up across Rapid City, SD and Bismarck, ND.ABC News
On Wednesday, snow will be falling across portions of the Rockies and northern Plains. Heavy snow will be possible at times. By tomorrow evening, it’s snowing from Aspen, CO to Scottsbluff, NE and up across Rapid City, SD and Bismarck, ND.

New York City and Boston will be in the 50s by Friday. These temperatures will be 15 to 20 degrees above normal.

A cold blast will then sweep across the central U.S. on Thursday and Friday.

ABC News’ M.L. Nestel, Julia Jacobo and Michael Kreisel contributed to this report.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that, according to the Associated Press, Michael Van Hecke was killed. Van Hecke was not killed, nor did the Associated Press report that he was killed. Roy Rohter was killed, according to the AP, citing Van Hecke.

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