13 confirmed deaths in mudslides, debris flows in Montecito and Carpinteria

Staff Report

Roughly 13 people have died and an additional 160 injured as of Tuesday afternoon as a result of the major winter storm, according to Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

“The mudslides and debris flows from the Thomas Fire burn area have greatly devastated Montecito. Our hearts are broken for the loss of life and for those that may still need to be rescued,” Brown said.

As fire officials and law enforcements have been trying to rescue and recover victims, they are warning onlookers to stay away from the area in order to not block crews access in and out of the area.

Highway 101 in both directions have been shut down as the mud and debris have covered all the lanes, and officials are estimating it might take the next few days to clear.

“Honestly we don’t know how long, we are hoping for 48 hours but it could be longer. There is still water coming down and there was a water main break at Olive Mill that produced more water than the rain storm,” said CHP officials.

Photo by Mike Eliason, SBC Fire

A 14-year-old girl was rescued after being trapped in her destroyed home for hours, according to Santa Barbara County Fire officials. There are residents in several neighborhoods of Montecito that are still stranded as crews aren’t able to access them yet.

“We will have a group of people unaccounted for and hope to find them safe. Our focus is on search and rescue operations at the moment,” Brown said.

There is roughly 300 people trapped in their homes in Romero Canyon and officials are working on a plan to evacuate them.

So far today Brown said there have been 50 hoist rescues, several dozen direct contact rescued and there are more than 500 firefighters and rescue crews assisting in this.

Southern California Edison turned off power to most of the Montecito area early Tuesday, since downed power lines were impacting emergency response.

When the storm cell hit at just before 4 a.m., the rainfall was unprecedented as it was falling at a rate of .86 inches in 15 minutes, according to the National Weather Service. They couldn’t attend the briefing as their offices are in Los Angeles, but sent a statement read by Capt. Dave Zaniboni of SBC Fire.

The National Weather Service said there might be a few more showers tonight possible for the mountains but the majority of the storm has passed. There might also be gusterly winds from 40 – 50 mph in the mountain areas of the burn area. Down trees and branches are a concern as are power lines.

“We have been working feverishly the last several weeks to clear the debris basins to prepare for this event, and it’s only January so we will continue to work to clear basins,” said Tom Fayram of Santa Barbara County Public Works.

Santa Barbara County officials advised everyone to shelter in place or go to high ground, but stay off the roads, if they are still within mandatory or voluntary evacuation areas. The Storm Info Line is available for evac info, transportation assistance, road closures or to speak with a counselor. Call (805) 681-5542 or text (805) 699-0165.

There is a family assistance center at the First Presbyterian Church at 21 E. Constance, for those looking for help with family or friends affected by the storm. They will be open until 8 p.m. tonight and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday.

The Montecito Water District has issued an order for residents in their area to boil their water before consuming.

No drones are permitted to fly in the area, and rescue efforts will immediately stop if one is spotted, the county said.

Residents are encouraged to sign up for alerts from the Aware & Prepare program, and to heed all evacuation orders and warnings.

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