Many of you know that I have called Santa Barbara my home for over 4 years. Yesterday our community was struck by a mudslide in Montecito. After watching some news channels and reading people's comments on the situation, I felt compelled to write this post to voice a few corrections, and to let people know what's going on. While I am not at ground zero, here is the story from my view and friend's around me.
First, you need to know about Santa Barbara weather. In the last 4 years it has "rained" maybe 4 or 5 times. I use quotes to describe this rain, because I'm from the Midwest, and Santa Barbara rain is like a weak sprinkler. Other midwestern transplants always joke around when it rains here, because everyone freaks out and forgets how to drive a car because they aren't used to rain on the pavement. Seriously, the drivers become horrible in the rain. The rainfall is never an actual rain storm either. It doesn't even really rain heavily here, it's usually a sprinkle. The first year I lived in Santa Barbara it didn't rain once, not even a sprinkle. But, there have been two different occasions where the rain caused a few streets to flood. This is because Santa Barbara has a horrible drainage system in place. When these floods would happen, no one was ever killed or injured, no severe property damaged happened, it was all very mild. While decades ago, Santa Barbara was used to getting heavier rain, the last few years have been very mild here.
Another thing you need to know about Santa Barbara, when we have this rain, and have mudslides, it's usually a small boulder or two that have fallen with a little bit of mud. I house sit a home that is up HWY 154 off of Painted Cave Road, and when it would rain you would often see small boulders on the side of the road and a little bit of mud. Nothing crazy. One time we had flooding in Santa Barbara, I did see a house on a hill get their lawn washed away. But the only damage was that their newly planted flowers had washed down to the lower street. No one was hurt, no homes were taken, it seemed bad at the time, but nothing like what happened yesterday morning.
Our community also just experienced the Thomas Fire. People spent weeks away form their home and were very recently able to return. Our community has been exhausted. Our homes were getting put in and out of mandatory and voluntary evacuation zones, and while I myself stayed in Santa Barbara throughout most of it, many people spent almost an entire month living out of their cars, hotels, and in other's homes. Some of these people have animals and children that they were doing all of this with. With the fire, we could see where the danger was. Every night you could look up in the mountains and see how close it was. You could really gage whether or not you would have to leave by just looking the danger straight in the face. With this mudslide, it was sudden and without warning and completely unexpected.
Now that you know what it has been like in Santa Barbara lets talk about the mudslide. Monday night when they were issuing evacuations these were the messages I received. 893-61 is for Painted Cave residence and 888-777 is for Santa Barbara residence.
For everyone asking "Why didn't people evacuate?" I understand the question, yes people should have left, but it's also important to remember, NO ONE imagined this would be what happened. People imagined it would be how it usually is when it rains. A few flooded streets, and maybe a yard or two may get swept away. Not homes. Not families. It's also important to note, not everyone that was devastated by this mudslide was in an emergency evacuation zone. See this map, the yellow is a volunteer evacuation zone, and the red is the mandatory evacuation zone. The black area is where they are currently still doing search and rescue and the area that was devastate the most.
What is extremely difficult about this, is the cell service in the entire area is shot. Even in neighboring city's like Carpinteria and Santa Barbara. Making it very hard to reach people. Many people are without Wi-Fi and without access to updates.
Why It Was So Bad
Yes, as many News Stations have mentioned, because the Thomas Fire had burned most of the hill side, the soil that normally would absorb much of this water form the rain was unable to. What made these mudslides ever worse near the 101 was that two water mains bursted while the mudslide was happening, adding to the scope of this disaster. This caused even more road blockage, making it even harder for rescue vehicles to get through, and for trapped citizens to get out.
What I've Been Hearing
This is the saddest part. My boyfriend and I have been talking to our fellow locals, and it's heartbreaking. While we have yet to make contact with everyone we know, we still have high hopes as nothing is confirmed. (Updates: our friends are all accounted for.) Unfortunately for others in the community, their fears have been confirmed. Many teenagers are getting word that their friends have lost their lives, which is even more heartbreaking. We often times view the Montecito area as a place for the ultra rich and celebrities, but there are many families that live there with young children and it is extremely heartbreaking. Children and families are still missing at this time. One woman told us about her friend who woke up to dead bodies floating down her backyard. While the death count is currently at 16 we are all on edge as we hear countless more stories of dead bodies and missing friends. Unfortunately this number may climb. This is a sad day in paradise.
My boyfriend, Ignacio, and I had decided to take a road trip this last weakened. Monday night we were in Tucson Arizona having dinner with my grandpa, or Papa, and his wife. After dinner Papa and Ignacio went outside to pick some fruit for us to take home. When they came back inside it was about 8pm (7pm Pacific Time), I was ready to hit the road. I had the first driving shift of the night and I was ready to get home to Santa Barbara. I knew with stops and everything, that if we left the house right then, we would get home by 3 or 3:30 am. and we would get to sleep a few hours before waking up to go to work. However, Papa offered Ignacio one more beer, since he wasn’t driving first, and he said Yes to it. In the moment, I was a little upset, but the beer may have saved our lives.
Because of the extra 15-20 minutes we sat at my grandpa’s house, we hit some random traffic in Southern California, in that moment I was thinking, “If only he wouldn’t have had that beer, we would have missed this standstill traffic jam.” And as we drove past the man half inside his broke down minivan and half in the rain, I felt so sad for him. But again, his misfortune may have aided in saving us from being buried at the Olive Mill Rd exit.
My boyfriend and I were a mile or so away from the Seacliff exit when we were met with more standstill traffic. It was raining, but I didn't think much of it. We had expected that there may be some road closures as preventative measures and didn’t think much of it. We were forced to exit at around 3 and 4am, and Ignacio attempted every backroad we could find. We ended up driving all the way back down to Ventura to take HWY 33. We jumped onto HWY 150, and spent the majority of the trip hydroplaning and listening to rocks hit the side of our car. There were many “Oh Shit” moments as we drove through the mud. We somehow got back on the 101 for a moment, they must not have had the barricades up yet in that location, because all the sudden we were hydroplaning and dodging rocks in the rain. More debris was coming around us and we had no choice to take the first exit we saw. And that is how we ended up in Carpinteria.
In Carpinteria, we were hoping we could get through to Santa Barbara. We were still unaware at what exactly was going on. We were getting alerts on our phones, but they didn’t tell us about what had happened. There was nothing on the news and our cell phone were barely working. The bridge on the 192 was out in Carpinteria, and the road that runs along the highway was completely blocked by water and trees. We had been using Maps on our iPhone when the road finally turned black on the GPS, I had never seen that happen, it was all sinking in. Finally, at around 9am we were able to rest at a friend’s house who lives in Carpinteria.
It was there we were actually able to see the devastation. While our host didn’t have Wi-Fi, a friend was sending her images of what was going on. Her husband and 17-year-old daughter, were stuck in Goleta at the hospital from a visit the night before, the 101 was closed off north and south bound. No one could get through to get anywhere. The husband then told us the home we were currently at was put into a voluntary evacuation zone, after knowing what had happened to other voluntary zones, we knew leaving was a good idea. We had no idea if it would rain more during the day.
We didn’t have access to aerial view footage of what had happened, only images that were being sent form the ground from fellow citizens in Monticito. The police had told us they would try to open the 101 at noon, so at 2:30pm we went back to the on-ramp to see if we could get home. They were allowing Summerland residence to go through, but not Santa Barbara locals. We then went to City Hall in Carpinteria to get a grasp of what was going on. It was there that we were able to see a live stream of the press conference issued. We were also able to see aerial footage and the extreme devastation. It was so hard to be so close to a disaster, and not be able to help. To be stuck in a city that is not your own, and watch your community be put through the disaster. It was then we were told the 101 would not be open for at least 48 hours. We knew we had to take the long way home. We had to take the 101 south to the 126 to HWY 5 to HWY 166 and back onto the 101 south bound. About a 5 and half hour drive.
Many other drivers were on these normally empty highways. There were a ton of semi’s using this route. if you do decide to drive this way please drive safe, and smart! Because much of this route is only one lane each way, it’s very important to pull over and let people pass if you choose to drive slow. Being a slow driver can be more dangerous than a fast one! And also remember to drive safe because if you get into an accident, it will not only affect you, it will affect everyone attempting to get home to their loved ones.
After arriving home around midnight on Tuesday night, I am so thankful to be here. We are just now starting our Wednesday and will be looking to see how we can volunteer and help out. I’ll be posting different ways that we find to help out on my Instagram stories today.
Send good vibes to everyone in Monticito.
All images within this blog were created by me, Nicole Anne Spahn.