Crews sifting through devastation left in Calif. mudslides' wake

California mudslides

Last Updated Jan 10, 2018 8:07 PM EST

MONTECITO, Calif. -- An onslaught of powerful and deadly rivers of mud have slammed portions of Southern California. The destruction is deadly and there is a desperate search for victims.

Back-to-back natural disasters -- including recent wildfires -- have stripped the land of natural barriers. Heavy rains touched off massive mudslides that are now blamed for at least 17 deaths, according to officials during a Wednesday night press conference.

At least 17 are still missing and some are unaccounted for. Rescue teams are searching the mud for victims who didn't or couldn't evacuate. More than 50 were fortunate enough to be rescued. However, at least 100 homes have been wiped away while 1,500 more are in danger.

A car destroyed in the wake of a mudslide. CBS News

The best way to understand the scope of the disaster is to walk among the once-magnificent homes for a close-up look and to fly above the devastation.

An aerial view of a 101 Freeway swallowed by mud showed just how much damage was done and how difficult the clean-up process will be. In some cases, the mud on the 101 is 3 feet deep.

Some of these areas are so vulnerable to mudslides because the topography is so rugged, going from sea-level to mountains that are a few thousand feet high within just a few miles. In some cases, the mud moved so fast -- and was so deep -- it swept homes right off their foundations.

While on the ground, one of the homes was overtaken by mud. Fire alarms sounded all over one neighborhood.

The 101 is one of the nation's most famous freeways and also one of its busiest. But from an overpass, it is little more than a sink of mud and debris – even a car can be seen out there stranded all alone.