Rescue workers scoured mud-swollen riverbeds in the wealthy Southern California enclave of Montecito on Wednesday, clutching to the hope that they might find some of the more than a dozen people missing after mudslides swept away about 100 houses.
At least 17 people were killed in mud flows so powerful that some one-story ranch homes in the area, which is northwest of Los Angeles, were covered up to their gutters. The devastation, sudden and violent, struck early Tuesday after a winter storm drenched and destabilized hillsides stripped bare last month by the largest wildfire in California history.
“Hundreds of people have been rescued and evacuated, many of them having to be hoisted out of the area by our aircraft,” Bill Brown, the Santa Barbara County sheriff, said Wednesday afternoon.
After surveying the affected area by aircraft, the sheriff said it was “very stunning to see the extent of the devastation, to see the breadth of the area that has impacted so terribly by this.”
The authorities said 28 people were injured, four of them critically.
At least 300 houses were damaged in the Montecito area and many more were listed by the authorities as “threatened.”
“We are still in the hopeful, optimistic mode that we can find survivors,” said Mike Eliason, a spokesman for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, which has rescued six people since the hillsides gave way.
Canine units worked their way along the Montecito and San Ysidro Creeks, where a large number of houses were swept away. The area near the creeks was the most treacherous, Mr. Eliason said, as creeks swelled with the sudden torrents of water mixed with ash from the fires, rocks and dirt.
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