MONTECITO, CALIFORNIA - Flash floods and mudslides have killed at least 17 people and demolished a number of homes north of Los Angeles, where wildfires last month stripped the hills of trees and vegetation.
At least 17 people were unaccounted for as the search for survivors expanded Wednesday with the arrival of a large search-and-rescue team from nearby Los Angeles County along with help from the Coast Guard, the National Guard and other law enforcement agencies.
WATCH: Rescuers Search for Missing People After Deadly California Mudslides
"We have no idea where they're at," said Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Amber Anderson. "We think somewhere in the debris field."
The rainstorm that triggered the mudslides early Tuesday dissipated, clearing the way for emergency responders using helicopters and dogs to rescue residents trapped inside homes or stuck in ankle-deep muck.
Three more people were rescued from the path of debris on Wednesday.
None of the dead have been publicly identified.
"We realize that this is going to be a long and difficult journey for all of us and our community," Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told reporters at a late afternoon news conference.
Brown said at least several dozen homes had been destroyed or heavily damaged in addition to the likelihood of many others in more isolated areas. He said the top priority was "determining if anyone is still alive in any of those structures that have been damaged."
Most deaths are thought to have occurred in the Montecito community, a wealthy area where some neighborhood streets were turned into rivers of mud or blocked by huge logs and boulders, according to Santa Barbara County spokesman David Villalobos.
Residents were stunned to see their cars swept down the street by currents of brown water. Others, covered head to toe with goo, could be seen trudging through the thick mud, carrying whatever they could grab.
Police used bulldozers to push mud off a major north-south highway Tuesday, snarling the usual L.A. morning commute.
As much as 13 centimeters of rain fell in some places, triggering the mudslides that damaged more than seven square meters of land.
The December wildfires burned away hectares of brush and vegetation that would have normally soaked up heavy rainfall in the hills north of Los Angeles.
Some information for this report came from Reuters.