World Bulletin / News Desk
Additional details on the deaths were not immediately available, but officials said another 17 people were reported missing.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told reporters that he does not believe the dead are all individuals who are missing. Local coroners are working to identify the deceased with the assistance of their Los Angeles-based counterparts in what Brown called a "mass casualty incident".
Rescue operations are ongoing as first responders continue to brave severe conditions including dense mud, downed trees and power lines in sprawling debris fields.
“It was very stunning to see the extent of the devastation, to see the breadth of the area impacted by this,” Brown said.
Over 500 search and rescue personnel were deployed to the area, as well as 10 search dogs who play a vital role in the mud-impacted areas. In all, three people were successfully rescued Wednesday.
Many of the locations worst affected by the storm had previously been devastated by the worst wildfire in California history, increasing worries about the possibility of mudslides in and around the freshly burned areas as the storm approached Monday. In all, it dumped over five inches of rain on Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Recently burned areas are less able to absorb rainwater.
The mudslides began Tuesday afternoon, totally destroying a number of homes as they tore downhill in the affluent enclave of Montecito.
The heavily-trafficked 101 freeway remained closed around the area Wednesday, and the California Highway Patrol said it would remain so until mid-day on Monday Jan. 15.