Dozens of stranded residents have been rescued by helicopter in areas of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties - some from their vehicles and others from rooftops.
Before the storm hit, Santa Barbara issued mandatory evacuations for 7,000 people, including in parts of Carpinteria, Montecito and Goleta, which are below areas scorched by wildfires, county spokeswoman Gina DePinto said.
The number has fluctuated since the disaster struck in the early morning darkness Tuesday and was as low as 16 on Wednesday evening.
First responders have rescued dozens of people since early Tuesday morning, when intense downpours caused mudslides and flash flooding in Santa Barbara County that killed 17 people. "While we hope it will not, we expect that this number will increase as we continue to look for people who are still missing and unaccounted for", Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said. "We think somewhere in the debris field". "They took it away to the hospital".
She said she and her wife, Portia de Rossi, had to evacuate their home on Sunday, just 10 days after returning from a previous evacuation for wildfires. Another video found her wading through the mud in the backyard, while the other saw a helicopter flying over her home. Fire spokesman MIke Eliason said the girl had been trapped for hours.
But the human tragedy, which unfolded overnight Tuesday and continued Wednesday, far exceeded the emotional punch of the severe property damage.
"Mourning the dead in our little town tonight", Lowe said. Officials in Sonoma County - where over half of the fatalities occurred - had decided not to deploy the federal Wireless Emergency Alert system, and some survivors of the 21 blazes later said they were inadequately warned.
The death toll remains at 15, with 24 people missing.
Comedian Ellen DeGeneres shared a photo on Twitter of the devastation in Montecito. "I don't know how I got lulled".
Roy Rohter, 84-year-old founder of the St. Augustine Academy Roman Catholic school in Ventura, died when the slide swept him from his home in Montecito, according to school officials and local news media. "Please send love to Montecito".
Among dramatic rescue stories emerging were one of a baby dug from the sludge and a 14-year-old girl helped from her collapsed home. It's no secret that drought, wildfires and mudslides ― all three of which California has witnessed of late ― are connected.
Damage spread over 30 square miles, she said.
Then, this week, it started to rain.
A major north-south highway along the coast, U.S. Route 101, was closed in both directions and not expected to reopen until next week.
"It happened that quickly".
"That's always our mentality: 'Hey, we're going to find someone alive, '" Page said.
A wall of water carrying uprooted trees and boulders moved like a river through the residential street.
Trashed areas were awash in a sea of mud, with only the tallest trees standing and some homes buried up to their roofs.
A member of the Long Beach Search and Rescue team looks for survivors in a auto in Montecito.
"I thought I was dead there for a minute".
Living just outside the mandatory evacuation zone, Gary Goldberg said most of his neighbours probably felt out of harm's way during this week's deadly California mudslides.
One such resident, Marco Farrell, 45, called the slide more frightening than the "biggest, scariest, horrifying monster you've ever dreamed of".
"All hell broke loose", said resident Peter Hartmann.