At least 17 dead in California mudslides, death toll expected to rise

Berkeley Johnson and his wife had just climbed to the roof of their Montecito home after boulders and mud smashed into the building — a result of the deadly California mudslides — when the couple heard the muted, desperate audio of a baby crying.

Johnson and his wife dugs through four feet of dirt, eventually pulling the newborn from the depths of the mudslides, which have already killed 17, with many people unaccounted for as of Wednesday afternoon.

“We don’t know where it came from but we got it out, got the dirt out of its mouth, ” he told KSBY-TV. “I hope it’s okay. I’m glad we got it out but who knows what else is out there.”

The baby was taken to a local hospital for treatment, but its condition remains unknown at this time.

In another rescue captured on social media, a mud-caked 14 -year-old girl was pulled from a collapsed Montecito home where she’d been trapped for hours.

“I believed I was dead for a minute there, ” the dazed girl could be heard saying on video posted by KNBC-TV before she was taken away on a stretcher.

The death toll from the mudslides in California unleashed by a powerful wintertime blizzard is expected to rise Wednesday as rescuers continue to excavation through the devastation caused by powerful mud flows that swept away dozens of homes.

Around two dozen people remained missing Wednesday, Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Amber Anderson told the Associated Press.

“We have no idea where they’re at. We think somewhere in the debris field, ” she said, adding that damage is spread over 30 square miles.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA MUDSLIDES, FLOODING LEAVE AT LEAST 13 DEAD IN MONTECITO, HIGHWAYS CLOSED

More than a half-inch of rainfall fell in five minutes on Tuesday, officials said.

“Right now our assets are focused on determining if anyone is still alive in any of those structures that have been damaged, ” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said at a news conference. He said there are “at least several dozen homes that have been either destroyed or severely damaged, and likely many other ones are in areas that are as-yet inaccessible.”

An deserted automobile floats in flooded waters and debris on the superhighway after a mudslide in Montecito. ( Mike Eliason/ Santa Barbara County FD)

Most deaths were believed to have occurred in Montecito, an upscale community located just outside Santa Barbara, said Santa Barbara County spokesman David Villalobos.

The wealthy enclave of about 9,000 people northwest of Los Angeles is home to such celebrities as Oprah Winfrey, Rob Lowe and Ellen DeGeneres. The region was threatened last month by the state’s largest wildfire in modern history, which led to vegetation being burned off. Burned-over zones susceptible to destructive mudslides because scorched earth doesn’t absorb water well and the land is easily eroded when there are no shrubs.

“It voiced like a freight training coming down the hill, you could hear these boulders rolling down, the whole house was shaking, ” Carpinteria resident John Livergood said.

PHOTOS: SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA MUDSLIDES

Authorities had been bracing for the possibility of setting up catastrophic flooding because of heavy rain in the forecast for the first time in 10 months.

Evacuations were ordered beneath lately burned areas of Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties. But merely an estimated 10 to 15 percent of people in a mandatory evacuation area of Santa Barbara County heeded the warn, authorities said.

U.S. Highway 101, the link connecting Ventura and Santa Barbara, looked like a muddy river and was expected to be closed for two days.

Montecito and neighboring Carpinteria are beneath the scar left by the Thomas Fire, which erupted Dec. 4 and became the largest ever recorded in California. The blaze spread over more than 440 square miles and destroyed 1,063 homes and other structures.

The Associated Press contributed to this report .

Travis Fedschun is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @travfed

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