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At least 15 people have died and a further 24 remain missing after brutal mudslides hit California on Tuesday.

Rescue workers and emergency services continued searching for survivors as the torrential rainstorm which triggered the disaster subsided.

Extensive damage was caused to homes, cars were swept away and streets left strewn with boulders, debris and cement-like mud, which rose up to shoulder-height in some areas.

Speaking about the missing, Santa Barbara County spokeswoman Amber Anderson said: “We have no idea where they’re at. We think somewhere in the debris field.”

A woman is rescued from a collapsed house in Montecito. Pic: Santa Barbara News-Press Video: Mudslides devastate southern California

The damage is spread over 30 square miles.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said officers were focusing efforts on finding possible survivors inside damaged buildings.

The firefighters’ spokesman Chris Elms warned the number of people known to have died could rise but said he was “hopeful” teams would find survivors.

CAR FILLED WITH MUD CALIFORNIA MUDSLIDES

Image: A car filled with mud in southern California

The disaster has seen at least 25 people injured, four of whom are believed to be in a critical condition. More than 50 people had to be airlifted to safety by rescue helicopters.

Montecito – an enclave of about 9,000 people – saw most of the deaths. The area is home to celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Rob Lowe and Ellen DeGeneres.

Oprah said her home suffered “minor damage” in an Instagram post after telling her followers she was “praying for our community”.

She posted videos of herself walking in the deep mud in her back garden on Wednesday.

The rescue operation to find survivors is underway

Image: The rescue operation to find survivors is underway

Among the dozens rescued on Tuesday was a 14-year-old girl, who was caked in mud after being pulled from a collapsed house in Montecito.

The mud descended on the town in the middle of the night after flash flooding in the Santa Ynez Mountains, which was ravaged by recent wildfires – the biggest on record in California.

The burnt out areas are thought to be susceptible to mudslides as the earth is no longer as able to absorb water and the lack of vegetation causes the land to erode easily.

Debris floats in flooded waters on the freeway after a mudslide in Montecito, California

Image: Debris floats in flooded waters on the freeway after a mudslide in Montecito, California

Officials had been on alert after heavy rain was forecast for the first time in 10 months.

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However, it is believed only 10-15% of people in the mandatory evacuation area of Santa Barbara County listened to warnings.

Peter Hartmann, a photographer for the local website Noozhawk, said: “All hell broke loose.”

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