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A mudslide has transformed a portion of Montecito into something resembling a post-apocalyptic movie.
JUAN CARLO/THE STAR

MONTECITO, Calif. — The numbers are horrific and just begin to tell the tale of tragedy unfolding in this quaint coastal hamlet overwhelmed by walls of debris, mud and water where rescuers Thursday continued the onerous search for survivors.

Cal Fire puts the affected area at 30 square miles. Twenty-eight people injured, eight missing. Sixty-five homes confirmed destroyed and more than 400 damaged. 

And rescue teams are still slogging through the mud, hunting for the missing and assessing the damage. Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, a Montecito resident ordered to evacuate before the mudslides began, discussed the tragedy Thursday on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

“There are families missing, there are people who are missing family members,” DeGeneres said. “They’re finding people and bodies and I mean, you hear the word mudslide and you have no idea the impact that it has … (Montecito) is beyond recognizable.”

The tale that led to these tears is nothing new in Southern California. First came the fires, and the Thomas Fire last month in this area west of Los Angeles was the biggest ever recorded in the state.

More: How fire, wind and rain combined to create the deadly mudslide in California

More: Montecito residents Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah discuss California mudslides

More: Southern California mudslides: At least 17 dead, 100 homes destroyed

The last embers were barely extinguished when the rains came. Residents of some communities were ordered out in advance as authorities feared the hillsides, left bare of vegetation by the fire, would be swept down onto homes below.

Before dawn Tuesday, the worst fears were realized. By the time the rains moved on, dozens of boulders sat atop muddied tree branches on Olive Mill Road, where at least three homes were blasted to their foundations when the debris suddenly roared in.

“It happened that quickly. It wasn’t a trickle,” said William Johnston, who lives in a retirement community down the street. 

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A wall of water carrying uprooted trees and boulders flowed like a river through the residential street. Residents waded through mud and still-flowing water to get to their homes. Some had to hop onto the roof to get inside through an upstairs window. 

They were assisted by firefighters and search-and-rescue teams. The sound of working construction equipment could be heard nearby as backhoes dug up the debris.

Some residents watched as crews tried to clean up the area, still in disbelief. Marco Farrell, 45, called the slide more frightening than the “biggest, scariest, horrifying monster you’ve ever dreamed of.” 

Oprah Winfrey, speaking on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, said while walking around she saw some of her neighbors homes were “gutted,” while others are “gone, just gone.” 

She said as her house was positioned on a knoll, she felt secure and that despite being informed she wouldn’t have water or gas, she feels grateful.

“I am blessed and I am going to do whatever I can for the rest of the community,” she said, “and we all just love the firefighters.”

Bacon reported from McLean, Va. Contributing: Erin Jensen, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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