Story highlights

Death toll could rise in after floodwater and mud wiped away homes, officials say

Region is especially vulnerable to flooding after recent wildfires

CNN  — 

Heavy rains unleashed destructive rivers of mud and debris in Southern California on Tuesday – leaving at least 13 people dead, destroying homes and spurring rescues as the flooding forced heavily traveled roads to close.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the death toll could rise. Officials said many of the deaths are believed to be in the coastal Montecito area, where mudflows and floodwater have inundated areas downstream from where the Thomas Fire burned thousands of acres last month.

At least two dozen people were unaccounted for and authorities rescued at least 50 people in the Montecito area. 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.

“It looked like a World War I battlefield,” Brown said of the destruction. “It was literally a carpet of mud and debris everywhere, with huge boulders, rocks, down trees, power lines, wrecked cars – lots of obstacles and challenges for rescue personnel to get to homes.”

Mud fillled a Burbank street, destroyed two cars and damaged property.

Latest developments

• Thirteen storm-related deaths were reported in Santa Barbara County, Sheriff Brown said.

• The 101 Freeway in parts of Montecito and Santa Barbara, will remain closed for at least 48 hours after muddy, debris-filled water flooded parts of the seaside roadway, according to Capt. Cindy Pontes with the California Highway Patrol. </