At least 17 dead following California mudslides, 13 still missing

What causes mudslides?

Authorities warned that land damaged by recent wildfires is especially prone to flash flooding and debris flows because burned soil is less absorbent, repelling water as well as pavement in some cases.

That set the stage for the massive slides that sent boulders crashing into homes, turned highways into raging rivers and shredded cars into almost unrecognisable tangles of metal. Hundreds of rescuers and dogs continued searching for people Wednesday, slogging through mud and debris. "It was literally a carpet of mud and debris everywhere with huge boulders, rocks, downed trees, power lines, wrecked cars, lots of obstacles and challenges for rescue personnel to get to homes, let alone to get people out of them".

The mudslides began Tuesday afternoon, totally destroying a number of homes as they tore downhill in the affluent enclave of Montecito.

Montecito resident Thomas Tighe told AP he stepped out of his home in the middle of the night and heard "a deep rumbling, an ominous sound I knew was ... boulders moving as the mud was rising". Ufberg reported from Santa Barbara.

However, as of 1 p.m. Tuesday, all northbound lanes of Interstate 5 at the intersection with Highway 118 were closed. They will assist with searches in the landslide area. At least 100 homes were destroyed and 15 people killed.

Heavy rain run-off caused mudflow in the community of Montecito, where some homes were knocked from their foundations, the BBC quoted Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Mike Eliason as saying.

A county statement Wednesday says an additional 300 homes were damaged.

The flooding and mudslides, affecting areas scorched by wildfires last month, have shut down more than 30 miles (48km) of the main coastal highway.

The mudslides were triggered by torrential downpours that unleashed rain on the region, which was hit by last month's mammoth Thomas Fire - the largest wildfire ever recorded in California.

Riskin Partners described its founder as "an exceptional woman" who lived her life with "strength, grace and elegance".

Officials are asking the public to stay out of the area west of Sheffield Drive/East Valley Road/Ladera Lane, east of Olive Mill/Hot Springs Road, north of the ocean and south of the US Forest Service boundary.

The number of fatalities surpassed the death toll from a California mudslide on January 10, 2005, when 10 people were killed as a hillside gave way in the town of La Conchita, less than 20 miles south of the latest disaster. The search for victims is not.

About 50 people were evacuated by helicopter.

Local fire officials reported rescuing several people in the area, including a mother and her daughter who were caked in mud.

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