Transcript for Deadly California mudslides swallow lives, homes, cars
Reporter: Tonight in California cars, homes, and lives swallowed by those deadly flash floods and mudslides. We have multiple reports of people trapped. It's our worst fear coming to life for us right now. Reporter: At least 13 are reported dead. Two dozen missing. Scores more are injured. This 14-year-old girl pulled from the muck. Authorities still in search and rescue mode, fearing those casualty counts will almost certainly rise. The only words I can really think of to describe what it looked like was it looked like a World War I battlefield. It was literally a carpet of mud and debris. Reporter: It was a natural disaster officials say that was exacerbated by the Thomas fire, the biggest in California history, which blackened hillsides and stripped them of anything that would absorb Tuesday's deluge. Up to five inches of rain pounded the region. The water coming down sometimes at a rate of more than an inch an hour. The carpenteria fire department has a rain gauge that recorded .54 inches in just five minutes. Reporter: Searching through creek beds with titanic force. The water came through this dam, destroyed several vehicles and that rv there. Reporter: Overnight the famed 101 freeway overrun. We're retreating here, and you can actually feel debris hitting our car right now. Reporter: Closed for 30 miles in both directions. You can see how fast that water is moving here. I mean, that is a torrent of water. Reporter: Then around 4:00 A.M. A catastrophic flow of mud and debris rushed towards homes. You could start to see some mud starting to ce down, and so right then I told my wife and the dog to get up on the bed. And I thought it would be a good idea to push on the door, which didn't really last very long. So then I ran and jumped on the bed and basically in seconds it was as high as the countertops. Reporter: Emergency crews on rooftops and dogs padding through debris, searching for signs of life. Our people are out there trying to do the best work they can and perform as many rescues as they possibly can. Reporter: Those rescuers sometimes trudging through mud that was chest high in the frantic search for the missing. You think someone is in there? We have a strong feeling someone's in that house. Trying to use our sonar equipment to hear voices. Reporter: So you think the person inside is still alive? Not sure. Reporter: But hope. Yeah. Reporter: About a mile away from there -- you see the size of these Boulders, gives you a sense of the power of the water to just heave these giant trees and giant rocks down stream. And it was there that Robert Riskin appeared. Slogging through hip-high mud, light was fading and he said so was his hope of finding his mother. I'm just in shock at this. This is unimaginable. I honestly -- it's hard to -- I'm just in shock. Reporter: Robert and his friends alone in this field of debris and despair. This house was perfect. Always. It's who she was, you know. Who she is maybe. I don't know. Reporter: We left them as they debated whether to go home or keep searching through the night. We've been searching and calling and I just hope that she's -- was fast and she's not hurting. Reporter: All day helicopters and high water vehicles ferrying families like Ben Hyatt's to safety. I was worried it was just going to keep coming and coming. I woke up my wife, and we just did not know what to do because we were just surrounded by mud. Reporter: But some unable to escape the path of destruction in time. So we had a wall of mud that must have been at least eight to ten feet high. Did you actually see it coming towards you? Yes. And the Boulders. And it stopped, basically, at our kitchen. And then two other neighbors also ended up, a brother and a sister, in our house also. And they had lived up farther away. And the sister didn't make it. They were washed up against your house? I'm so sorry. It's a huge tragedy. Reporter: A huge tragedy for a place that is still reeling from those disastrous fires that burned parts of this area all through December. Well, the fire was the ultimate extenuating condition. Then the rain that hit so hard so fast was yet another extenuating condition. So we have two unusual occurrences happening at the same time. And what are the chances of that? Reporter: Last month the Thomas fire ripped through this region, scorching over 280,000 acres of land. Turning freeways into fiery hellscapes, reducing neighborhoods to cinders. I honestly can't even describe what I'm thinking. My mind is not even really connecting with it all yet. And yet there it is. Reporter: And forcing tens of thousands to flee. These helicopters are dropping as much water as they possibly can on these fields. The idea is to stop the fire from getting from this charred part of the mountain down there to those avocado fields and the homes below. Reporter: Ultimately, that blaze denuded mountainsides pretty much of what could have absorbed that water overnight into ash. Tonight an eruption of support on social media. Celebrities who live in montecito and Santa Barbara like Ellen, Rob Lowe, and Gigi hadid tweeting out their thoughts and prayers for their hometown. But for the rescuers still toiling tonight it's luck that they need. So when you have the mudslide, everything's kind of wet, the dogs can sniff in there, get in there pretty easily and you can still pull people out of the mud. The problem is that mud is going to harden quickly. Reporter: Feverishly working against time and hoping to find some more survivors. For "Nightline" I'm Matt Gutman in Santa Barbara, California.
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