USA – Deadly Flooding and Mudslides in California (Updated)

Update, 11 January 2018

County of Santa Barbara authorities say more deaths have been confirmed, bringing the total number of fatalities to 15, as of late 10 January. At least 24 people are still missing and around 28 have been injured.

Authorities say that 100 family homes and 8 commercial premises were destroyed. Over 300 homes were damaged.

In a statement, Santa Barbara authorities added:

“Early yesterday morning an extreme weather event associated with significant rainfall in a compressed timeframe resulted in water and debris flow damage throughout Montecito and surrounding Santa Barbara and Carpenteria areas. The area remains unstable due to flooding, debris flow, downed trees and power lines. Search and rescue operations remain the number number one priority.”

Over 450 personnel from military and emergency services are working in the area. At least 50 people have been rescued by helicopter, with dozens more rescued on the ground.

County of Santa Barbara say that evacuations have been carried, with Mandatory Evacuation orders affecting 7,000 people and Voluntary Evacuation affecting 23,300 people.

Power outages are affecting over 6,000 homes and businesses, primarily in the Montecito area. Many areas of Montecito are without potable water and sanitary services. Natural gas has been shut off in most parts of Montecito to repair the distribution system.

Montecito, California, flood and mudslides damage, January 2018. Credit: Santa Barbara County Fire Department
Montecito, California, flood and mudslides damage, January 2018. Credit: Santa Barbara County Fire Department
Montecito, California, flood and mudslides rescue operations, January 2018. Credit: Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department/Handout


Original Report, 10 January 2018

A powerful storm on 09 January caused flash flooding and massive debris flow from burn areas in California, USA.

Montecito, California, flood and mudslides, January 2018. Photo; Ventura County Air Unit / Twitter

The worst hit areas are in Santa Barbara County, in particular Montecito. Some parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties are also affected.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office said that at least 13 people have died and over 20 were injured in what the office described as “an absolutely tragic day for Santa Barbara County.” The Sheriff’s Office added:

“The death toll is expected to rise as there are residents who are missing and unaccounted for. Our hearts are broken for the family members and friends who lost loved ones.

“The search and rescue effort continues tonight. The hope is to find people who may still be alive and reunite them with their families and to help others who are trapped and need help evacuating.”

Some reports said at least 6 homes were swept off their foundations and completely destroyed.

Streets were covered in mud up to 1.5 metres deep and littered with boulders and debris. Rescue teams have been using helicopters to lift people to safety after dozens of major roads were blocked.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff has declared a “Public Safety Exclusion Zone” in Montecito and the surrounding areas in order to facilitate the ongoing rescue and recovery operation.


Rain from the storm fell on hillsides and mountains stripped of trees and vegetation by the wild fires that swept through parts of California from October last year.

The weather station at Sandberg in Los Angeles County recorded 57 mm of rain in 24 hours to 10 January.

NWS Los Angeles said via Social Media that 0.54″ of rain had fallen in 5 minutes at Montecito. Other figures include 0.73″ in 10-minutes at KTYD Radio Towers, 0.86″ in 15-minutes at Carpinteria, 1.11″ in 30-minutes at Carpinteria and 1.45″ in 1 hour at Matilija Canyon.

Further up the coast, San Francisco recorded 85.9 mm in 24 hours to 10 January.

Warnings and Evacuations

The storm was expected and warnings had been issued in advance.

Evacuations orders – some of them mandatory – were issued for areas below the Thomas, Whittier, Sherpa and Rey Fire Burn Areas on Monday, 08 January, 2018 due to the approaching storm. The evacuation area was widened to include other areas as the storm drew closer.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office said “Do not delay in taking action to protect you, your family, your animals and your property. If you fail to take action and decide to stay in these areas, you could be stranded with no way for rescuers to reach you if you need help.”

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