Seventeen dead, dozens of missing and hundreds of homes destroyed or damaged – including the high priestess of American media Oprah Winfrey: mudslides devastated the region of Santa Barbara Wednesday a month after angry fires.

In this region, usually one of the most bucolic and majestic in California, the torrential rains of Monday and Tuesday, the first for ten months, have turned into calamities.

Without vegetation to hold the earth, it collapsed for hundreds of meters while the rivers rose up to several meters, carrying mud and rocks and destroying everything in its path.

“We are sad to announce that the death toll has risen to 17,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told a news conference, adding that others were still in the process. to agonize “while waiting for news of their relatives: thirteen people were still missing.

Brown described “massive” relief operations with more than 500 people mobilized, and described the extent and extent of the devastation as “staggering”.

Firefighters in Santa Barbara County reported rescuing a 14-year-old girl who had been stuck for hours in a collapsed Montecito house.

“We realize it will be a long and difficult road for us and our community,” said Sheriff Brown.

The county also confirmed 28 wounded. Some 30,000 people were subject to mandatory or recommended evacuations.

On Wednesday, Montecito, an affluent town next to Santa Barbara on the Pacific coast, two hours north of Los Angeles, was transformed into a landscape of desolation. The streets and roads were overgrown with mud or cut by rocks or cars crushed by uprooted trees.

Here, houses had been disemboweled by torrents of mud … a few meters further, others were totally spared.

Through the small town of celebrities, workers were busy to clear the streets and repair the electric cables that hung, some pylons lying on the ground.

Oprah Winfrey’s home in Montecito was hit by disaster. The presenter, actress and superstar producer posted on Instagram videos of her mud-filled garden in which she sank up to mid-calf, and littered with debris.

– Train launched at full speed –

“Here there was the fence of the neighbor, she was carried away,” she says. The star – whose speech at the Golden Globes on Sunday triggered a move in favor of her hypothetical presidential bid in 2020 – also posted a video of a burning fire next to her home because of a leak from gas, and showing helicopters flying over the area.

Residents described the torrent of mud as a speeding train or a herd of buffaloes crushing everything.

“I lived here all my life I’ve never seen anything like it,” told AFP Melissa Ausanka-Crues, a 29-year-old nurse.

“We were lucky, we were only under voluntary evacuation and decided to stay because of all the animals we have here, we had just returned from the evacuation because of the fire” Thomas tells -t it.

“We live 750 meters from here and there was nothing,” she says.

Gala, who refuses to give her last name, comes to find electricity at home and is shocked by what she discovers by turning on the television and internet: “I did not know what was happening (.. .) two blocks away, they should have made evacuations mandatory “.

According to Amber Anderson, spokesperson for the Santa Barbara Fire Department quoted in the local press, about 100 houses were destroyed and 300 were damaged by mudslides.

Motorway sections were closed for several more days. The railway traffic was also disturbed because of covered roads.

The home of Dick Thielscher, a resident of the area, was not damaged but he said he was “worried about the next storm”, questioned by AFP.

He tried to go to the supermarket with his two little dogs … but did not manage to cross the street, blocked by a thick layer of mud.