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17 dead after flooding and mudslides force thousands to flee in California

Wednesday - 10/01/2018 21:31
Many more are feared to be dead and buried beneath the mud. At least 24 people are missing, fire officials said.

At least 17 people are dead and more than two dozen are injured in California from weather-related incidents, Santa Barbara County officials said Wednesday. The southern part of the state has been drenched with severe rain just weeks after several fires tore through the area.

Flash flooding, debris flow and mudslides are punishing the communities hit hard by the Thomas and La Tuna fires, prompting "dozens and dozens" of rescues on the ground, a spokesperson from the Santa Barbara County Fire Department told ABC News.

PHOTO: Aerial view of Montecito, Calif., where mud and debris covers roads, homes and everything in it's path following heavy rains, Jan. 9, 2018. (VCAirUnit/Twitter)

Many more are feared to be dead and buried beneath the mud. At least 24 people are missing, fire officials said.

Among those killed was Roy Rohter, the founder of the St. Augustine Academy in Ventura, according to the Catholic school's headmaster, Michael Van Hecke.

A mudslide swept Rohter and his wife, Theresa Rohter, out of their home in Montecito. Rohter's wife was rescued and hospitalized in stable condition, but Roy Rohter did not survive, Hecke told ABC News.

“Roy’s life has been in service to his good, loving and ever-forgiving God,” Hecke, a close friend of the Rohters, said in a statement. “Thousands have been blessed by the Rohters’ friendship and generosity.”

PHOTO: Mud and debris flow on the roadway due to heavy rain in Montecito. Calif., Jan. 9, 2018. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

Among the missing were sisters Sawyer Corey, 12, and Morgan Corey, 25, family members confirmed to ABC News. A third sister and the girls' mother are currently being treated in the ICU, the family said.

Montecito alone saw heavy rainfall in a short amount of time. About a third of the rain that has fallen in the last 24 hours in Montecito happened in just five minutes, according to the National Weather Service.

Because hundreds of thousands of acres were charred in the fires, the influx of water has nowhere to go.

Some homes in Montecito's affluent community have been ripped from their foundations as a result of the torrential conditions. About 100 homes have been destroyed and another 300 were damaged, county officials said.

The Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management said Tuesday night the city of Montecito would be without potable water, electricity and sanitation "for an extended period of time."

Local fire officials reported rescuing several people in the area, including a mother and her daughter who were caked in mud. About two dozen people in Santa Barbara County are unaccounted for, officials said.

PHOTO: Mud fills the interior of a car destroyed in a rain-driven mudslide in a neighborhood under mandatory evacuation in Burbank, Calif., Jan. 9, 2018. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

The Claffey family in Carpinteria was forced to evacuate its home last month. After moving back in, family members were told to evacuate again because of the rain.

"If our house was flooded it would be devastating. Absolutely devastating," Maureen Claffey told ABC News.

Another family told ABC News that they witnessed neighbors floating away from their homes on mattresses and others holding on to trees for hours in a whirlpool of frigid mud.

PHOTO: Firefighters search for trapped people in Montecito, Calif, Jan. 9, 2018, after mud and debris destroyed buildings following heavy rains. (@EliasonMike)

The record rains started coming down on Monday, soaking northern cities like San Francisco and Sacramento. First responders put on skies to help the stranded since many roads and thruways have become raging rivers.

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