The death toll climbed to 17 on Wednesday as emergency workers pulled bodies from a river of knee-deep mud and continued to search grimy debris and ruins for the more than a dozen people still missing.
Officials say the deluge destroyed 100 houses and damaged 300 others after debris spread across a wide swath of Montecito — a wealthy enclave of about 9,000 people northwest of Los Angeles that is home to a number of high profile celebrities. The debris was able to rush down on to the community because the hillside vegetation which would have ordinarily impeded it was stripped during the catastrophic wildfires last month.
Residents have now started returning home to assess the damage to their properties. Along Hot Springs Road, where at least two homes were carried off their foundations, bulldozers cleared muck and debris from areas already searched.Utility crews have begun the laborious task of repairing downed power lines and snapped telephone poles. Some 500 firefighters and other rescue workers continue the hard task of searching through the debris for survivors.