MONTECITO (CBSLA/AP) – Twenty people are dead and three remain missing Monday – including a 2-year-old girl — following last week’s devastating mudslide in the wealthy Santa Barbara County enclave of Montecito.
The missing people are identified as 2-year-old Lydia Sutthithepa, 17-year-old John Cantin and 28-year-old Faviola Calderon.READ MORE: UCLA Ranked No. 2 In College Basketball
John Keating, a 53-year-old homeless man, had been missing but was found in Ventura on Monday.
The 101 Freeway will remain shut down between Santa Barbara and Ventura counties for at least another week due to the debris and the upcoming possibility of more rain this week, Caltrans reported Monday. There is no word on when it might reopen. Drivers were advised to use 5, 46, and 166 freeways to get around the closure, Caltrans said.
Much of the water on the roadway had receded by Sunday, allowing workers to use bulldozers and other heavy equipment to push away solid debris that was still several feet deep.
“It is not until you can see the damage with your own eyes that you can come to understand the magnitude of the incident, the response that is necessary, but most importantly the impact to the citizens and families of Santa Barbara County,” said Jim Shivers, a spokesman for the California Department of Transportation.
The mudslides on Jan. 9 ravaged the tony community, destroying at least 65 homes and damaging more than 460 others, officials said.
Though parts of the town of about 9,000 were spared, the debris flows leveled entire blocks. Sewer lines were ruptured, fire hydrants sheared off, power lines downed.
Search and rescue operations ended Sunday and authorities transitioned to a search and recovery phase, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said. The move allows officials to release resources that are no longer needed and allow search operations to slow to a safer pace, he said.
The army of searchers and recovery workers has swelled to more than 2,000.
While an aggressive cleanup could mean Montecito will welcome visitors again in weeks, the rebuilding of infrastructure and hundreds of homes will be measured in months and years.
Telephone and electrical lines could be moved from poles to underground conduits. A micro-grid for solar power would increase self-sufficiency.
Montecito means “little mountain” in Spanish, and it was the foothills of the coastal range that crowd the town toward the ocean that gave way early last Tuesday. Recently burned by California’s largest recorded wildfire, the hillside couldn’t absorb a heavy rainstorm punctuated by an epic downpour of nearly an inch in just 15 minutes.
The resulting torrents of mud, boulders and uprooted trees deposited several brown veins at least 100 yards wide through leafy green neighborhoods.
It was the worst disaster of its kind in the U.S. since 2014, when a hillside in Washington state gave way, killing 43 people. Debris removal took nearly six months near the community of Oso, an area far humbler than Montecito.READ MORE: Parents Keep Students Home To Protest Newsom's State-Wide Vaccine Mandate For All Schoolchildren
The tremendous volume of debris covering houses outside Oso meant many buried properties were never cleared. Instead, crews contoured the new mounds to encourage natural drainage to a river below, then seeded the earth with ground cover to limit erosion.
The stabilization process took about three months and cost around $8 million, said Matt Zybas, solid waste director in Snohomish County.
While homeowners in Montecito have the capital to rebuild, few will do it with the help of flood insurance.
Just 58 buildings in the town of 3,200 households have coverage under the National Flood Insurance Program, according to Edith Lohmann, an insurance specialist with the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. Though the number of Montecito homes insured outside the government program was unavailable, it is the dominant source of flood coverage nationally.
Critics also complain the town is typically slow to permit new construction.
“We’re going to make it a lot easier than normal to rebuild,” said Das Williams, the Santa Barbara County supervisor whose district includes Montecito.
Because the small commercial center of cafes and boutiques was not devastated, Williams hopes tourists will be able to return within weeks.
In rebuilding, the town will have to wrestle with how much of a down payment it is willing to make against future disasters. Discussion about new infrastructure often focuses on “shovel ready” projects.
“Mother Nature for better or worse has already done the shovel aspect in much of our community,” said Charles Newman, vice chairman of the Montecito Planning Commission.
Still, there may be a limited appetite to require that homeowners install devices to catch water, especially when balanced against the need to return to normalcy.
“Requiring it might be an obstacle at this time, psychologically and otherwise,” Newman said.
Local government could explore a new storm drainage network. Montecito has relied mainly on the creeks that cut from the mountains to the ocean for drainage, said Tom Fayram, deputy public works director in Santa Barbara County.
And then there are the huge scars on the hillside, which could be stabilized by reusing the boulders that tumbled through town.
But even with improvement, catastrophic mudslides still would overwhelm the town, Fayram said.
“I would say it is impossible to create any drainage system to address the event that happened last Tuesday,” he said. “In places I stood, the debris flow was 15 feet over your head. It was not water. It was a slurry, with rocks that are over your head and trees. This is not a drainage system issue. This is a debris flow of the likes we have never seen.”MORE NEWS: Southern California Welcomes Autumn Rain, Cooler Temperatures
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