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California mudslide survivors recall when the 'mud came in an instant'

Ben Hyatt rushed to wake everyone up when rivers of mud started banging the doors and walls of his Montecito, California home.

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Nicole Chavez (CNN)
(CNN) — Ben Hyatt rushed to wake everyone up when rivers of mud started banging the doors and walls of his Montecito, California home.

"Seemed like just heavy rain," he said. "Five minutes later, heard loud wish sound. Mud came in an instant, like a dam breaking."

Hyatt and other residents are recalling the drama that ensued as Tuesday's deadly mudslides and flooding devastated Southern California. Hundreds of rescuers and dogs continued searching for people Wednesday.

They heard a "deep rumbling" sound

Heavy rain and a "deep rumbling" sound preceded the massive amounts of mud that blanketed miles and killed at least 17 people.

When the rain began drenching the area, Hyatt decided to stay up late to "keep an eye on things." Shortly, he would be moving furniture around to keep the mud from getting in his home.

Streets were like rapids and it was matter of minutes before cars began moving sideways, disappearing underneath the mud and crashing into homes.

Josie Gower held onto a door frame when a devastating river of mud rushed inside her Montecito, California home.

The 69-year-old woman and her boyfriend were at home Tuesday when the mudslide swept through the neighborhood.

"For some reason, she opened the front door" and was swept away, Diane Brewer, one of Gower's friends told CNN.

Gower is among who have been reported dead in Santa Barbara County, Brewer said. More than a dozen people remain unaccounted for, authorities said.

Families rushed to escape the raging mudflow

"We ran into the house and right then the boulders busted through the house," Berkeley "Augie" Johnson told KSBY.

The muddy water was not slowly leaking into homes like rainfall does -- it came in slamming.

As Johnson and his family ran up to the second level of their home, about 8-9 feet of mud followed them closely. With nowhere to go, they crawled out of a window to reach the roof, he said.

Children and babies were pulled from the mud

The mud and debris overwhelmed many homes and wiped some of them out.

Johnson pulled a baby who was submerged in about 4 feet of mud, KSBY reported.

"We don't know where it came from but we got it out, took the mud out of his mouth. I hope that's OK," he said.

From the rubble of another home, a crew of firefighters rescued a 14-year-old girl, who had been trapped for hours after her home collapsed.

The girl, coated head to foot in mud, was led by firefighters from the pile of wood and debris that was once a house, a photo from Santa Barbara County fire department showed.

The destruction was everywhere

Peter Hartmann said power lines were down and aluminum poles were snapped in half. The water was flowing out of water mains also coming off from fire hydrants.

"There were gas mains that had popped, where you could hear the hissing," Hartmann told CNN affiliate KCAL.

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