Five people are confirmed dead after Tuesday morning’s devastating storm that triggered heavy mudflows along the Thomas Fire burn scar in Montecito and Carpinteria. A woman’s body was recovered along Butterfly Beach, another body was found at Olive Mill Road and the railroad tracks, and a third set of remains were retrieved from the Highway 101 off-ramp at Channel Drive. Details were not available about the other two victims.
Emergency officials said hundreds of rescues have been performed, many of motorists trapped in their cars, with 75 calls for emergency service pending. Radio chatter described a family with a newborn stuck in their Montecito home’s attic. The Coast Guard has deployed as many as four airships, large helicopters equipped for emergency rescues.
County Fire Chief Eric Peterson said responders are still assessing damage and prioritizing rescues. “We’re still trying to get our arms around this thing,” he said. “This is going to take a long time to get sorted out.” A Montecito man described a “wall of water of mud and debris” hurtling down the Olive Mill Road Road overpass in a voluntary evacuation zone. “I never would have guessed so much water could come over that overpass,” he said. “It was just incredible.”
Peterson said one of his fire captains who lives on Olive Mill Road witnessed occupied cars tumbling down the street. A Montecito resident said a man in his twenties was swept by a mudflow all the way from Hot Springs to Highway 101 but miraculously survived. He is recovering from his injuries at Cottage Hospital. The man’s father, however, remains missing.
Torrential rain bursts continue to batter Santa Barbara’s fire-scarred upper hillsides, residents are reporting, adding to the three to four inches delivered overnight by the storm, along with 35-45 mph winds early this morning. Meteorologist Eric Boldt with the National Weather Service adds that the shore saw one to two inches, as well as lightning strikes offshore. The reported noise of thunder could have been the sound of rocks rolling down the canyons during the night’s heavy downpour, he said.
The storm brought four to six inches of rain to Ventura’s Matilija Canyon, an area hit hard by the Thomas Fire, and snow’s been reported to as low as the 5,300-foot level in the Los Angeles mountains, said Boldt. Another half to inch and a half of rain are expected before the skies clear.