Run-off from heavy rain caused devastation in Santa Barbara County, with officials saying mud was waist-deep in some areas.
The death toll from devastating mudslides in affluent communities along a stretch of Southern California coastline rose to 17 on Wednesday after two more bodies were recovered, the local sheriff said, and the number of people missing is eight.
A Santa Barbara County fire official, who declined to provide his name, called what he say a scene out of a disaster movie.
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.
Smashed up cars still live Olive Mill Road where people looked around in shock.
At least several dozen homes were damaged or destroyed.
The former talk-show host, whose Golden Globes speech spurred chatter about a 2020 run, shared a video montage to her Instagram account depicting damage done to her 65-acre Santa Barbara County property, People magazine reported.
Helicopters were used to pluck more than 50 people from rooftops after downed trees and power lines blocked roads.
"Teams are actively engaged in life saving operations", the office said.
Authorities would not specify how many people were in each category.
"Praying for the survivors and preparing for whatever may come. Priorities? Anyone?" he wrote. Slowly but surely the floodwaters on the 101 Freeway began to recede.
The 81 year-old swimmer, who won two golds in the 1960 games was rescued by his son Marco, who said the couple had "evacuation fatigue" after leaving to avoid wild fires last month.
A flawless storm of land development, fire, wind and then rain conspired to create the deadly avalanche of mud and debris that leveled homes in Southern California this week.