California mudslides death toll rises with 13 still missing

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It's unclear how many people would have heeded an emergency evacuation order had it been issued before the devastation in Montecito started, officials said.

"Rescue crews have managed to clear the roadways to free the 300 residence that have been trapped since Tuesday in Romero Canyon", Eliason added.

Rescue efforts are under way in Santa Barbara County for residents trapped by mudslides that overwhelmed an area scorched by wildfires last month.

A devastating mudslide has killed at least 15 people in Montecito, Santa Barbara, but why do mudslides happen and what made this one so risky?

The area is home to a number of celebrities, including actor Rob Lowe, chat show host Ellen DeGeneres and TV personality and actor Oprah Winfrey.

In some neighborhoods still bearing the scars of the Thomas Fire, houses were completely destroyed while others nearby were untouched.

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In this photo provided by Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Santa Barbara County Fire Search Dog Reilly looks for victims in damaged and destroyed homes in Montecito, Calif. following deadly runoff of mud and debris from heavy rain on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.

More than 3 inches of rain fell in parts of Santa Barbara during Tuesday's downpour, but it was the speed of the rainfall that caused mudslides, according to the National Weather Service.

"This was a very sad and tragic announcement for us to make", Sheriff Bill Brown said Thursday.

On Thursday morning, a spokesperson reported that 48 people were missing, but that number was wrong and due to a clerical error, according to the Associated Press.

DeGeneres took to Twitter to ask for support for her community.

"The torrent arrived suddenly and with a sound some likened to a freight train as water carrying rocks and trees washed away cars and trashed homes".

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Some of Montecito residents on Wednesday returned to their homes to see what they could salvage from the ruins.

A major north-south highway along the coast, US Route 101, was closed in both directions and not expected to reopen until next week.

Josie Gower held onto a door frame when the terrifying river of mud rushed inside her Montecito home.

The only remnants of the homes on Olive Mill Road were the faint traces of their foundation and the neighbors that knew of them. "(I'm) devastated", she said in a video shared to Instagram Wednesday. Nearly the entire community - about 10,000 people - is now under mandatory evacuation orders, which could last "one to two weeks", according to the Santa Barbara County fire chief.

"While some residents cooperated, many did not".

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