California

15 confirmed dead, dozens missing as storm slams Montecito with flooding

Update Wednesday, 6:30 a.m.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that 15 people have died. Go here for Wednesday’s updates.

Update, 6:30 p.m.

SoCalGas will temporarily turn off natural gas service to about 3,500 homes and businesses in specific areas identified by Santa Barbara County Fire, the company announced Tuesday afternoon.

The natural gas outage in Montecito includes the area north of Highway 101 to Foothill/East Valley Road and east of Hot Springs/Olive Mill to San Ysidro Road.

For additional gas outage info go to http://socalgas.com/Montecito or dial 1-800-427-2200.

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Update, 5:20 p.m.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the area hit hard by mudslides and flooding is an “active rescue area” and asked anyone who doesn’t need to be there to stay away.

“We have an inordinate number of people in the area come to take a look, and they’re impeding operations that are occurring out there,” Brown said, adding that deputies would enforce a law that states any unauthorized person who enters a closed emergency area is committing a misdemeanor crime.

So far, 13 people have been confirmed dead in the storm, though Brown said authorities expect that number to increase. At least two dozen people are missing or otherwise unaccounted for, but Brown said officials were not able to provide a list of the missing, stating that the process is “dynamic.”

Brown said that once daylight came Tuesday, “it looked like a World War I battlefield.”

“We have a very difficult time assessing the area and responding to many,” Brown said, noting the presence of a ton of debris, large rocks, downed trees and power lines and cars as well as “knee-deep” mud on the roads that made access difficult. He added that there was flooding and mudslides in both mandatory and voluntary evacuation zones.

About 300 people are trapped in Romero Canyon, authorities said.

“They are otherwise safe but unable to get in or out,” Brown said. “We are in the process of mounting an evacuation to get them out.”

Brown spoke during an afternoon news conference.

Capt. Cindy Pontes of the Santa Barbara division of the California Highway Patrol said that northbound Highway 101 was shut down in Ventura County at Highway 126 and again at Seacliff. In Santa Barbara County, southbound Highway 101 is shut down at Milpas Street.

“Honestly, we don’t know,” Pontes said in regards to when Highway 101 will reopen. “We’re hoping for 48 hours, but it could be longer.”

Pontes said there was a water main break earlier on Tuesday at Olive Mill Road that flooded the freeway and water and debris is still coming down onto 101.

Dave Zaniboni, the public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, called the amount of rainfall in the area “unprecedented,” with quick downpours that occurred in less than 30 minutes early Tuesday morning causing mudslides.

At about 4 a.m., there was “a catastrophic debris flow” between Cold Springs Canyon and Toro Canyon with portions of the flow reaching down to Highway 101, said Kevin Taylor, the deputy fire chief for the Montecito Fire Department.

“We are currently in search and rescue mode and have completed approximately 50 hoist rescues and several dozen contact rescues,” Taylor said.

Update, 4:40 p.m.

During a news conference late Tuesday afternoon, authorities said at least two dozen people remain missing. At least several dozen homes are destroyed or severely damaged, authorities say.

Between 3 and 6 a.m. Tuesday, Santa Barbara County dispatchers handled more than 600 telephone calls from residents seeking assistance because of the storm.

Santa Barbara County has also opened a center to assist people looking for loved ones affected by flooding and mudslides caused by Tuesday’s storm. More information can be found here: Trying to contact loved ones in Santa Barbara County? These resources can help.

Check back for more updates.

Update, 4:15 p.m.

Authorities are now reporting 13 confirmed deaths in the deadly storm that hit Santa Barbara County overnight. Sheriff Bill Brown says the number is expected to increase as search efforts continue.

Update, 4 p.m.

The Associated Press has identified one of the victims as Roy Rohter, the founder of St. Augustine Academy in Ventura.

Update, 2:10 p.m.

The death toll has risen to 8, according to Santa Barbara County. The Los Angeles Times reported that all of them died in Montecito.

According to the county, 25 people have been confirmed injured as a result of the storm and first responders have conducted 50 rescues, including the rescue of a 14-year-old girl who was trapped for hours in a destroyed home in Montecito.

Update, 1:50 p.m.

The death toll is officially up to six people, Noozhawk reported. Emergency reports indicated two bodies found on the 200 block of Olive Mill Road and another on North Jameson Lane at Hixon Road, though no official details were not available. Earlier in the day, the body of a woman was found on Butterfly Beach, another body found at Olive Mill Road and the railroad tracks and another at the Highway 101 offramp at Channel Drive.

San Luis Obispo County is sending at least 40 emergency responders to Santa Barbara County to respond to a call for mutual aid issued by the California Office of Emergency Services.

Update, 1 p.m.

Santa Barbara County has opened a family assistance center at First Presbyterian Church, located at 21 E. Constance Avenue in Santa Barbara. The center, which will provide assistance to people looking for loved ones affected by the winter storm, is open until 8 p.m. Tuesday and will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Update, 12:30 p.m.

The Montecito Water District has issued a boil water notice in effect for its customers in Montecito and Summerland, according to Santa Barbara County. Customers can find more instructions by calling 211 or visiting montecitowater.com.

The Pacific Surfliner train announced that the railroad tracks are closed south of Santa Barbara, causing some trains to cancel and others to re-route to Oxnard or Los Angeles.

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Update, 10:50 a.m.

A flash flood advisory is in place for southern Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties until 1:30 p.m., with heavy showers forecast in the area, according to the National Weather Service. Santa Barbara County said in a tweet that everyone should leave debris flow areas now and go to higher ground, as more flash flooding is possible.

Update, 10:30 a.m.

At least five people have now been confirmed dead, according to Noozhawk.

Update, 9:55 a.m.

One more person has been confirmed dead as a result of the storm, Noozhawk reported. The third body was found at the Highway 101 offramp at Channel Drive in Montecito.

Original story

Two people have been confirmed dead as a result of the winter storm pummeling the Montecito area.

According to Noozhawk, the fatalities were confirmed on Tuesday morning. Responders found one body in the area of Olive Mill Road by the train tracks and found a woman’s remains in the Butterfly Beach area.

Multiple other deaths have been reported, but not confirmed. There have been numerous reports of people trapped inside structures and vehicles, and 911 lines are overwhelmed, according to Noozhawk.

Firefighters successfully rescued a 14-year-old girl who was trapped in a destroyed home in the 300 block of Hot Springs Road for hours. Additional details on the rescue were not immediately available.

According to the National Weather Service, the maximum rainfall amounts for Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria occurred between 3:30 a.m. and 3:45 a.m.

At the peak of the rain, Montecito received about 0.54 inches of rain in 5 minutes and Carpinteria received 1.11 inches in 30 minutes, the NWS reported.

Photos and video taken by Mike Eliason, the public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department show Highway 101 flooded with runoff water from Montecito Creek. Highway 101 is closed from Highway 126 in Ventura to Milpas Street in Santa Barbara until further notice, according to Caltrans.

Gabby Ferreira: 805-781-7858, @Its_GabbyF

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