California mudslides death toll rises

Vast rivers of mud have killed at least 17 people and a dozen others are still missing in Southern California.

The extraordinary scenes have been created by a double weather disaster - last month's wild fires stripped the hills of their stabilising trees, then winter rains drenched the soil causing massive run-off.

The mud rivers - a metre deep in places - carried boulders and flattened structures.

In Montecito, the exclusive coastal community hit hardest by the mudslides, a 14-year-old girl was rescued from the debris by firefighters. They took six hours to extract her with jaws of life, after hearing her muffled cries for help.

"It was so hard to hear her," one rescuer told NBC News. "We very easily could have just taken two more steps and we wouldn't have been able to hear her at all."

Berkeley Johnson, a Montecito resident said that he and his wife dug a baby out of the mud, after hearing crying near their neighbour's house.

"We don't know where it came from, but we got it out, got the mud out of its mouth," he told NBC News. "I'm hoping it's okay, they took it straight to the hospital."

Oprah Winfrey herself posted footage of the mud's devastation to her Instagram account.

Local officials are stunned by the conditions and by the sheer scale of the operation that now lies ahead of them.

Santa Barbara county sheriff Bill Brown compared the devastation to a "World War One battlefield".

"It was literally a carpet of mud and debris everywhere."

Coastguard helicopter crews are conducting round-the-clock rescue missions to pull people to safety.