Wildfires scourging the mountains of Southern California over the past few months left debris and mud free to the force of sweeping rain that came over late Monday night into Tuesday. The land fell downward, forming mudslides that ravaged communities still recovering from the California fires.
At least 15 people were killed in Santa Barbara County in the wreckage, authorities said, and dozens more are still missing. Rescue vehicles and helicopters set out on Wednesday to save those trapped in damage of fallen homes, wrecked cars, and stuck under freeway overpasses after seeking safety. A 14-year-old girl was rescued after she was pinned down under debris of her home lifted off its foundation. Those same emergency workers had battled the fires engulfing the hillsides of Southern California just weeks earlier.
The heaviest rainstorm in over a year in the Los Angeles area signaled alarms for flash flood and mudslide warnings. "In California, the past few weeks of weather read more like a Hollywood script than real life," Eric Holthaus wrote in Pacific Standard. "Raindrops are falling across Southern California for the first time in more than 300 days." The anticipated influx of rain prompted a mandatory evacuation order issued by Santa Barbara County officials, the New York Times reports, but few of the 7,000 residents mandated to evacuate actually chose to leave.
A deep layer of water blanketed the 101 Freeway running through Montecito, California, where free-floating cars and pieces of homes made way through the muddy water. "This is not a river," tweeted Ellen DeGeneres, along with a photo of the freeway. "This is the 101 Freeway in my neighborhood right now. Montecito needs your love and support."
The Santa Barbara County Fire Department tweeted photo and video updates throughout the day, sharing rescue efforts and information on areas that suffered extreme damage.
Last month, flames engulfed vast forests of the mountainside, reducing trees to little more than ash and loose debris, leaving the land unable to adequately absorb water from the rainfall and more vulnerable to form mudslides.
Below are photographs showing the devastation caused by the flooding and mudslides.