Mudslide-devastated California towns face evacuations, brace for downpour

PHOTO: Andrew Joos-Visconti protects his property with sandbags from the upcoming rains in the Sun Valley area of Los Angeles, March 20, 2018.PlayDamian Dovarganes/AP
WATCH See the horrifying damage after deadly southern California mudslides

Waves of rain are expected over the next two days in California, with the heaviest hitting the southern part of the state.

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For Montecito, California, which endured deadly mudslides two months ago, this storm could bring more debris flow.

In Santa Barbara County, 30,000 people were told to evacuate, including residents of Montecito.

The Jan. 9 storm in Montecito killed 21 people, left two children missing and destroyed many homes.

Dave Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department described the aftermath of the January mudslide as a "battlefield" and "unrecognizable."

PHOTO: A handout photo made available by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department shows an aerial view taken aboard Santa Barbara County Air Support Units Fire Copter 308 of mudflow and damage following heavy rains in Montecito, Calif., Jan. 10, 2018.EPA
A handout photo made available by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department shows an aerial view taken aboard Santa Barbara County Air Support Unit's Fire Copter 308 of mudflow and damage following heavy rains in Montecito, Calif., Jan. 10, 2018.

PHOTO: Mud and rocks are shown at a home damaged by storms in Montecito, Calif., Jan. 12, 2018. The mudslide, touched off by heavy rain, took many homeowners by surprise early Tuesday, despite warnings issued days in advance.Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
Mud and rocks are shown at a home damaged by storms in Montecito, Calif., Jan. 12, 2018. The mudslide, touched off by heavy rain, took many homeowners by surprise early Tuesday, despite warnings issued days in advance.

"I've been doing this for 32 years and I've never seen anything just so tragic in my life," he told ABC News Wednesday.

Zaniboni said he recovered a 6-year-old boy who died in the Jan. 9 storm, and he's since stayed so close to that boy's family that he feels an immense attachment to them.

"As much as I feel like I've been able to sort of help them through some tragic times," he said. "They were really able to help me so much, too. They just gave me a purpose during all of this... It changed me."

PHOTO: Vacuum trucks are used to clear the muck left by the mudslide from Highway 101 in Montecito, Calif., Jan. 15, 2018.Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Vacuum trucks are used to clear the muck left by the mudslide from Highway 101 in Montecito, Calif., Jan. 15, 2018.

Zaniboni said the "monster storm" on Jan. 9 "dropped a half an inch of rain in 15 minutes and an inch of rain in half an hour, and that's what caused the debris flow."

Now, the area is expecting a bigger storm, but it will be over a longer period of time, which eases the debris flow, said Zaniboni.

"This is the biggest storm we've had since Jan. 9," Zaniboni added.

The heaviest rain is expected to reach Southern California on Thursday, and rainfall rates could be as high as 1 inch per hour -- causing possible mudslides and rock slides.

PHOTO: An ABC News weather map shows rainfall on the West Coast on Thursday, March 22, 2018.ABC News
An ABC News weather map shows rainfall on the West Coast on Thursday, March 22, 2018.

Rainfall totals in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara could reach 2 to 3 inches. The coastal range could see as much as 5 to 10 inches.

"Because this storm is so widespread and so long in duration, we're concerned about any heavy cells, any thunderstorm that might center over these mountain areas," Zaniboni said. "Right now they're doing a great job as far as the creeks and stuff go, they're funneling all the water off the mountains and the creeks are running clear."

"But after Jan. 9 all of those creeks... were jam-packed, clogged up with debris and trees and boulders and houses," Zaniboni said. "Since Jan. 9 the Army Corps of Engineers has been in here working hand-in-hand with Santa Barbara County Flood Control, they've been working around the clock and got all of those debris basins and all those creeks clear."

As Santa Barbara braces for the rain, the Sierra Nevada Mountain range in Northern California is preparing for snow, the area could see close to 5 feet of snow by Saturday.

PHOTO: ABC News meteorologists predict that over 5-inches of rain is possible in areas of coastal Southern California through Thursday night, March 22, 2018.ABC News
ABC News meteorologists predict that over 5-inches of rain is possible in areas of coastal Southern California through Thursday night, March 22, 2018.

ABC News' Kayna Whitworth and Scott Shulman contributed to this report.

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