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Death toll from slides rises to 15 with daybreak air rescues set to begin in Montecito

James Queally And Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

The storm system that hit Southern California beginning Monday dumped more than 5 inches of rain on some parts of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, and officials had been concerned that sections of the state damaged by last month's wildfires would be susceptible to heavy mudflows. Soil scorched by fire is less able to absorb water.

Mudflows washed out a nearly 30-mile stretch of the 101 Freeway between Santa Barbara and Ventura, and also prompted evacuations in parts of Burbank and Los Angeles on Tuesday. The heavy weather also caused a surge in motor vehicle accidents across the Southland, according to the California Highway Patrol.

But Santa Barbara County clearly took the brunt of the damage, where mud, boulders, husks of cars and housing frames were common sights. The section of Montecito that was hit hardest was actually south of the Thomas fire's burn scar, and not subject to mandatory evacuation, according to Mike Eliason, public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

But a creek that feeds the Pacific Ocean swelled early Tuesday morning, raining boulders and flood waters onto residents as they slept.

The rains were like a starter's gun for many in Montecito and nearby Carpinteria. Peter Lapidus said the sound of droplets pummeling his home forced him out of bed around 4 a.m. Tuesday.

"It was like a bomb went off," he said. "It wasn't raining hard, and then it was like you flipped a switch."

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