Caribbean Fever - Your ONLY destination to all things Caribbean and more
Sixteen people are dead, 24 are missing and at least 300 are trapped in mudslides which have torn the wealthy town of Montecito apart.
The death toll climbed on Wednesday as emergency workers pulled bodies from a river of knee-deep mud and boulders which rained down on homes after a torrent of rain earlier in the week.
The debris was able to rush down on to the community because the hillside vegetation which would have ordinarily impeded it was all stripped during the catastrophic wildfires last month.
Many residents put themselves in danger by not heeding mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders issued while there was still time to escape.
As more unthinkable damage rocked the area, celebrities were among those who found themselves caught up in the chaos.
Oprah Winfrey's $50million home survived the damage and she was not home for the worst of it but she visited the site on Tuesday to share her shock and grief. Tennis star Jimmy Connors revealed to fans that he had to be airlifted out of his home to safety.
As they surveyed the damage, 300 people remained trapped in the hillside community of Romero Canyon which has become impassable. Authorities are working on an evacuation plan to airlift the hundreds of stranded residents to safety.
The first victims has been identified. They include fathers and husbands whose wives and children were rescued but they were swept away.
Among the missing are sisters Morgan Corey, 25, and Sawyer Corey, 12, who were asleep in their home when the mudslides hit.
Winfrey shared video of her home following the floods to let her followers know she was safe and her $50million home had survived the storm. She shared a number of videos on Instagram showing the knee-deep mud in her yard (left), a gas fire nearby and helicopters rescuing her neighbors (right)
The first confirmed death was Roy Rohter (pictured above), a former real estate broker who founded St. Augustine Academy in Ventura. His wife Theresa was injured by the mudslide. Their home was in a mandatory evacuation zone
Missing: Morgan Corey (left), 25, and Sawyer Corey (right with her twin sister and mother), 12. They were asleep in their home with Sawyer's twin sister, Summer, and their mother, Carie Baker, when the mudslide hit early Tuesday morning
As the scale of the damage begins to emerge, questions persist over why so many died in the devastation.
Part of the answer lies in what emergency services have called 'evacuation fatigue', a complacency or refusal to heed their warnings after last month's catastrophic fires.
NBC cited officials who said they were worried residents would not take the mudslides as seriously and not leave.
Bridget Bottoms, a resident who chose to stay at home appeared to confirm their fears, telling The Los Angeles Times: 'It sounds foolish but it's like, "how bad can it get?".
About 7,000 residents in Santa Barbara County were ordered to evacuate before the downpour on Tuesday, and another 23,000 were urged to do so voluntarily - but many remained in their homes.
Winfrey shared video of her home following the floods to let her followers know she was safe and her $50million home had survived the storm.
She stood in knee-deep mud and debris as she said a fence had been knocked town and that she was 'devastated' over the damage to her neighbor's house.
'Thanks everyone for your prayers and concern,' she said in the caption. 'My property is fine. Some mud , and minor damage that pales in comparison to what my neighbors are going thru.'
Winfrey previously shared a number of videos on Instagram showing the knee-deep mud in her yard, a gas fire nearby and helicopters rescuing her neighbors.
'What a day!' she said on the social media site as she filmed from her $50million estate in Montecito. 'Praying for our community again in Santa Barbara.
'Woke up to this blazing gas fire. then swipe left to see how deep the mud is in my backyard. Helicopters rescuing my neighbors. Looking for missing persons.'
Most deaths were believed to have occurred in Montecito, a wealthy enclave of about 9,000 people northwest of Los Angeles that is home to such celebrities as Winfrey (left with Stedman Graham), Rob Lowe and Ellen DeGeneres. Pictured above, Winfrey's $50million home in Montecito
An aerial view of Montecito, California, shows homes and roads before and after they were completely washed away by mudslides that hit the area on Tuesday
Former tennis star Connors told his Twitter followers that he had to be evacuated from his home by helicopter.
'Montecito -- fires burn- rain comes- mud slides and devastation- evacuated today by helicopter- thoughts and prayers for all !!!' he wrote. Connors has owned an 800-square-foot home in the neighborhood since 2001.
The upscale communities of Montecito and Carpenteria, just outside the city of Santa Barbara, were hardest hit. Over the past month California's scenic coastline was ravaged by a series of intense wildfires that burned off vegetation.
Mudslides slammed into homes, covered highways and swept away vehicles early on Tuesday when more than a half-inch (1.5cm) of rain fell in five minutes, a rate that far exceeds the normal flash flood threshold.
Officials said during a press conference that the death toll was 15. Santa Barbara County CEO Mona Miyasato emailed her staff to say the number had increased to 16, the Santa Barbara Independent reported.
The first confirmed death was Roy Rohter, a former real estate broker who founded St. Augustine Academy in Ventura. The Catholic school's headmaster, Michael Van Hecke, announced the death and said Rohter's wife was injured by the mudslide.
At least 25 people were injured in the mudslides and others were unaccounted for as of Tuesday.
On Tuesday, emergency workers using search dogs and helicopters to rescue dozens of people stranded in mud-coated rubble in the normally pristine area, sandwiched between the ocean and the sprawling Los Padres National Forest, about 110 miles (180 km) north of Los Angeles.
Among those missing following the mudslides are sisters Morgan Corey, 25, and Sawyer Corey, 12. They were asleep in their home with Sawyer's twin sister, Summer, and their mother, Carie Baker, when the mudslide hit early Tuesday morning.
Baker and Summer Corey were later found by rescue teams and taken to hospital in critical condition. Friends and family have launched a social media search for Saywer and Morgan, whose whereabouts are still unknown.
Also missing are elderly couple Alice and Jim Mitchell. Family members are hoping to find them at an evacuation center, but they have not heard from the couple since the mudslide hit.
Father-of-six John McManigal, who was swept out of his home by flooding alongside his 23-year-old son, Connor, who was later found.
'My father is being reported as missing right now,' John's son, Tyler, who is stationed in Hawaii for the Navy, told the Los Angeles Times.
The 28-year-old added: 'They found my brother probably three-quarters of a mile away, south of where the house is, on the 101 Freeway.'
Rescue crews used helicopters to pluck more than 50 people from rooftops because trees and power lines blocked roads, dozens more were rescued on the ground and firefighters pulled mud-caked 14-year-old Lauren Cantin from a collapsed Montecito home where she had been trapped for hours.
A semi-tractor trailer sits stuck in mud and flood waters on the highway after mudslides in Montecito
The mudslides followed a violent rainstorm that dropped as much as 6 inches (15 cm) of precipitation in pockets northwest of Los Angeles, soaking ground that was left vulnerable after much of its vegetation burned in the state's largest wildfire last month