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January rain storm triggers mudslides, flooding, freeway closures in Los Angeles

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At least 17 people are dead in Santa Barbara County

Rain and mud flow out of an neighborhood under mandatory evacuation today in Burbank.
AFP/Getty Images

Editor’s note: This story was originally published on January 8. It has been updated throughout to reflect the latest information.

A heavy rain storm sent debris-laden mud gushing through hilly portions of Los Angeles on Tuesday, clogging roads and triggering evacuation orders, some of which are still in effect this morning.

It left a mess in Burbank and Sunland, and crews will work today to clean it all up. North of LA, the deluge punished Montecito. Homes were ripped off their foundations, and the 101 freeway was turned into what looked like a river. The death toll there has climbed to 17, according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

According to the Los Angeles Times, residential neighborhoods in Montecito were hit with a torrent of water, rocks, and debris when Montecito Creek overflowed early around 2:30 a.m. Tuesday. At one point, the National Weather Service says, .54 inches of rain pounded the neighborhood in a period of just five minutes.

Firefighters in Santa Barbara made 50 rescues on Tuesday, including one of a 14-year-old girl, covered in mud, who had been trapped inside a home for hours. “I thought I was dead for a minute there,” the girl could be heard saying on video, according to the Associated Press.

Highway 101 is still closed in Santa Barbara and Montecito, but it is open south of Highway 150 in Carpinteria and in all of Ventura County, Caltrans reports. It was previously closed for a roughly 30-mile stretch of road between Ventura and Santa Barbara due to flooding and debris flow.

From Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, the neighborhoods overwhelmed by mudslides had only recently emerged from devastating wildfires. Recent burn areas are susceptible to mudslides and landslides when it rains, since they have little or no vegetation to absorb the water.

Affected neighborhoods in Montecito had not, however, been under mandatory evacuation orders as they were located south of the Thomas Fire burn zone, according to the LA Times. The mud came flowing in from scorched hillsides in the Santa Ynez Mountains.

In Burbank, several cars were trapped in mudslides. Fast-moving water gushed through canyons. Residents and firefighters sheltered in-place Tuesday afternoon after “encountering heavy mud flow caused by debris topping Deer Canyon and Sunset Basins, blocking access.”

Evacuations have been lifted for all of Country Club Drive, though some residents have been told they should boil their water, says the city of Burbank.

Mandatory evacuations are still in effect for residents living between 8300 and 8800 La Tuna Canyon Road in Sunland, says the Los Angeles Fire Department. The Sunland Boulevard offramp of the eastbound 210 Freeway remains closed.

A KTLA reporter traveling on La Tuna Canyon Road Wednesday morning said the mud was still 1.5-feet deep in some sections.

All streets surrounding the Sepulveda Basin were shut down due to flooding but reopened Tuesday evening, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

A large section of Topanga Canyon Boulevard, between PCH and Grand View, was shut down Tuesday morning as the result of a mudslide. There’s no estimate for when traffic might be allowed through again, says Caltrans.

If there’s any good news, it’s that many people living in recent Creek and Fish fire burn areas had a heads-up about potential dangers. In response to the rainy forecast, local officials worked quickly, evacuating some burn areas Monday and warning residents in others to be prepared to go at a moment’s notice.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced Tuesday afternoon that those evacuation orders had been lifted and residents could return to their homes.