Sheriff "amazed at the intensity" of Southern California mudslides, storm

Santa Barbara County sheriff

Rescue operations are underway in Southern California after torrential rain triggered deadly mudslides in areas recently hit by wildfires. The storms and mud flows have killed at least 15 people and more than 20 people are unaccounted for.

Santa Barbara County sheriff Bill Brown told "CBS This Morning" Wednesday that they're still looking for people who might be trapped or isolated in Montecito and the surrounding areas.

"I think most people are really shocked at the extent of the damage and how big the impact was to the area. Certainly although we knew that this was coming, it was just – you couldn't help but be amazed at the intensity of the storm and the result of the mudslide and the water that cascaded down the hills as a result of that," Brown said.

As CBS News correspondent Carter Evans reported, torrential rainfall inundated Montecito Tuesday, quickly turning a major highway into a river and entire neighborhoods into disaster zones. Emergency responders said within three hours they received more than 600 calls for help. 

Coast Guard video captured the dramatic rescue of an entire family including a newborn baby. Crews also pulled a teen from mud-caked rubble. Firefighters waded through knee-deep sludge and used search dogs to find other victims. 

Oprah Winfrey trudged through the mud in her Santa Barbara backyard, posting videos of the damage.

Just last month, many of these same homeowners were forced to evacuate as the state's largest wildfire, the Thomas Fire, stripped hillsides of vegetation and left them vulnerable to destructive mudslides.

Officials estimate only 10 to 15 percent of people living in the mandatory evacation zone complied. 

Asked whether people did not take the threat seriously, Brown said, "There certainly were some people who did refuse to evacuate and chose to stay in their homes, but there were many that did evacuate the area and were safe as a result of that."