18 dead, 5 missing in Southern California mudslides

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Oprah Winfrey's home was among the many damaged by the Southern California flash floods and mudslides that resulted in at least a dozen fatalities.

"At least several dozen homes that have been either destroyed or severely damaged, and likely many other ones are in areas that are as-yet inaccessible".

"It looked like a World War I battlefield", said Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown. "Many chose to stay in place", said Brown at a Tuesday press conference.

As new images of harrowing rescues and escapes emerge from across Southern California, the cleanup continues.

As of Thursday, January 11, it's been confirmed that 17 people are dead and 8 more are missing. Oprah Winfrey also has a property in Montecito that is reportedly worth almost $90 million. "We thought that the fire was awful, and this is absolute devastation", said Scott Groff, a Montecito resident. The Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department is working toward determining whether those "missing" were accounted for in other locations or among those who are deceased.

"We know that this a terribly inconvenient development, but it is also incredibly necessary", Brown said. He added: "We are still very much in active search and rescue mode".

Helicopters, rescue dogs and swift-water rescue teams were aiding the search, which was slowed by closed roads and downed trees and power lines.

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Voluntary evacuation orders were issued in some neighborhoods where mudflows buried homes and killed people. He and his parents put belongings in three cars in case they chose to leave before the storm.

NWS (National Weather Service) Meteorologist Courtney Obergfell tweeted: 'Not hard to see why #Montecito and areas below #ThomasFire are experiencing devastating mudslides.

As massive mudslides hit Montecito, California, a man says he dug a baby out from four feet of mud and debris on Tuesday morning.

He yells: "Oh my god, Mom!" before sprinting back into the house.

Santa Barbara County spokesman Amber Anderson said: "We have no idea where they're at". The rain really started coming down around 3 a.m., he said, and then the sky lit up from a "huge fireball" up the mountain, he said.

That fire, of course, was the Thomas fire, which just last month burned more than a quarter million acres. It wasn't fully contained until this week.

And because of the fire, communities below the scarred terrain could remain at risk of mudslides for years, said Randall Jibson, a research geologist with the US Geological Survey.

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