CA Mudslides Destroy Homes, Neighborhoods


Rescue crews worked Wednesday (Jan. 10) to comb through destroyed homes and neighborhoods a day after mudslides cut through parts of Southern California.

As of Wednesday afternoon, officials in Santa Barbara County confirmed that 15 people have died in the disaster, with 25 injured and at least two dozen people still unaccounted for.

Earlier in the day, hundreds were trapped in the ravaged Romerto Canyon area of Montecito because of the amount of debris blocking the roadways.

“The only words I can really think of to describe what it looked like was it looked like a World War I battlefield,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. “It was literally a carpet of mud and debris everywhere.”

Evacuations Ignored

Before the storm hit, Santa Barbara issued a mandatory evacuation for 7,000 people in areas including parts of Carpinteria, Montecito and Goleta, which CNN reports were hit hard by wildfires earlier this year.

(Those wildfires stripped the landscape of vegetation that would have ordinarily trapped at least some of the rainfall, making the area more flood-resistant.)

Another 23,000 people were urged to evacuate voluntarily. Many residents did not evacuate (only about 10-15 percent complied with mandatory orders) and the area that was hit the hardest, officials say, was south of Highway 192—not in an evacuation zone.

Early on Wednesday, those same evacuation zones were re-designated as exclusion zones, meaning people were told to stay put.

Resident Ben Hyatt told CNN that “a river of mud crashed through a neighbor's house” and surrounded his home with around three feet of mud and debris.

Rainy Season

Amber Anderson, spokesperson with the Santa Barbara County Incident Management Team, noted that all the bodies recovered Wednesday were near the Montecito area, where there were also reports that the mudflow carried houses completely off their foundations.

Robbie Monroe of the National Weather Service noted that the rain fell at more than 1.5 inches per hour at one point—about half an inch per hour is enough to start mudslides. And Tom Fayram, a deputy public works director with Santa Barbara County, said that the region around Montecito is particularly vulnerable because of the steep terrain.

Some officials are worried about the rest of the rainy season. A Santa Barbara County fire official told the Washington Post that “This is just the first storm. It’s probably going to happen again and again.”


Tagged categories: Disasters; Good Technical Practice; Health and safety; North America; Safety

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