Most of the devastation has occurred in and around Montecito, a wealthy enclave of about 9,000 people northwest of Los Angeles that is home to such celebrities as Winfrey, Rob Lowe and Ellen DeGeneres.
(Santa Barbara County Fire Department via Reuters) The Montecito Inn sits in flooded waters and debris after a mudslide in Montecito. Earlier, officials said just eight people were unaccounted for.
Seven thousand people have been ordered to evacuate while over 23,000 others have been asked to leave voluntarily.
Highway 101, California's main north-south coastal route, was buried under mud and debris, and about 30 miles of the southbound lane will be closed at least through midday Monday, said Capt. Cindy Pontes, Santa Barbara County commander for the California Highway Patrol.
The department posted pictures of rivers of mud flowing through neighborhoods, with homes collapsed, cars smashed up and turned onto their roofs and roads rendered impassible by fallen trees.
A 14-year-old girl who was trapped for hours inside a California home destroyed by mudflows was safely pulled out of the rubble by firefighters Tuesday morning, according to KTLA.
"We were all exhausted of it", said Montecito resident David Cradduck, 66, who stayed.
Brown did say that of the 17 people he announced were missing Wednesday, some were identified as among the dead and were crossed off the list.
"We don't know where it came from, but we got it out, got the mud out of its mouth", he told the station.
Winfrey captured footage of nearby flames that were burning due to a gas leak in the midst of a downpour while in another clip, the star showed part of her mud-covered backyard and indicated the depth of the mud by walking through it with rain boots on.
A separate Montecito resident also named John Keating was seriously injured during this incident and is in the hospital. Erik Ortiz reported from NY.
Experts anxious about mudslides in the aftermath of the Thomas fire, which incinerated more than 280,000 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.