Mudslides in Southern California : A Well Thought Out Scream by James Riordan
And it all came tumbling down. In 1978 I moved from Illinois to Malibu, California. My rent went from $145 a month to $1,050 a month. I lived in a five bedroom house with four roommates. There were famous people everywhere. Movie stars in the grocery store. rock stars in the bars. Some of them were jerks but most of them were very nice. About every other day or so I’d walk four houses down to Gary Busey’s house because our sons were fighting. Gary was great and easy to deal with…but Gary didn’t get until around 5p.m. so most of the time I was dealing with his wife. Malibu is a strange place. Our town drunks were Gary, Jan Michael Vincent (Airwolf) and Nick Nolte. One time a friend of mine came out of a local bar and found Nick Nolte sitting in the trunk of a car. My friend offered to help him, but Nick said, “Naw, I’m fine…it’s all good.” My friend said, “Nick, you’re in the trunk of a car.” And Nick, “Yeah, I know. It’s all good, I’m fine.”
Another thing you hd to deal with in Malibu was mudslides. At one point while I was living there, they built a thirty foot high wall on Pacific Coast Highway to hold back the mud. It if rained for too many days in a row the mud would start sliding. Sometimes it would take a multi-million dollar hour or two into the Pacific Ocean. Usually there was enough warning signs that no one got hurt. Some of the folks who lived around Montecito, California, were not so lucky this week as mudslides there have killed at least twenty people according to the California Department of Fire and Forestry Protection. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office announced Sunday that 30-year-old Pinit Sutthithepa had been found dead. Four people, ranging in age from 2 to 53, remain missing. The mudslides came in the early morning hours of Tuesday, destroying an estimated 65 homes and damaging hundreds of others, the Cal Fire release said.
Digging out of a mudslide is a horrible experience and even now rescue crews are sifting through the mud and wreckage looking for the missing. On Saturday, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown announced that search and rescue crews had found the body of 25-year-old Morgan Corey whose 12-year-old sister, Sawyer, had been found dead earlier in the week.
The victims range in age from 3 to 89, and all lived in Montecito in Santa Barbara County, northwest of Los Angeles. Rescuers have been searching frantically for the missing since rivers of mud and boulders plowed through neighborhoods there destrpying homes and leaving roads impassable. “In disaster circumstances, there have been many miraculous stories of people lasting many days. We certainly are searching for a miracle right now,” Brown said Thursday. “But realistically we suspect that we are going to continue to have discovery of people who were killed in this incident.”
Officials have stressed they expect the number of missing persons “to fluctuate significantly.” US 101, a major freeway connecting Northern and Southern California, remains closed. It’s not clear when the highway — which officials had said would reopen on Monday — will be cleared for travel.
The areas where people have been killed are now under mandatory evacuation, and officials increased the size of the evacuation zone Thursday as authorities continue their search and rescue efforts. “We know that this a terribly inconvenient development, but it is also incredibly necessary,” Brown said. “This entire area is a very active rescue and recovery and repair zone right now.”
The zone, which includes areas formerly under voluntary evacuation advisories, will be in effect for one week but residents should plan for two, Brown said. Rescue workers are using helicopters and all-terrain vehicles in a search hampered by blocked roads and downed trees and power lines.
Billy Grokenberger lives in a part of Montecito that was under a voluntary evacuation order. He and his parents put their belongings in three cars in case they decided to leave before the storm. They didn’t. “We had thought about leaving, but we had just had the fires,” he said, referring to the recent wildfires that stripped the area of needed vegetation. “… We didn’t take it serious(ly) enough.”
On the morning of the storm, Grokenberger watched as two to three feet of water streamed down the street. “(In) four minutes the water was through our wall and in our house, almost to the second story,” he said. “The house is destroyed, but you know, there’s just so many others who are less fortunate. But we just feel lucky that we were able to get out and (are) alive.”
There is always a risk of mudslides in certain areas of California. Still the people stay. Many people who have lost homes in the mudslides over the years rebuilt in the same area. It’s like the huge fires that come roaring through certain areas every few years. The people refuse to leave.
In fact, it is the fires that increase the likelihood of a mudslide. The latest storm came in strong between 3 and 6 a.m. Tuesday. The rain poured down on hillsides charred by recent wildfires, which burned vegetation that otherwise could make the terrain more resistant to mudslides. The Thomas Fire — the largest wildfire in California’s recorded history — burned more than 281,000 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties from early December into this month and wasn’t fully contained until this week. Geologists and forecasters warned that an intense rain could trigger deadly mudslides from the scorched areas.
The truth is that, as a result of the fire, communities below the scarred terrain will remain at risk of mudslides for years. Montecito may be at slightly less risk now, because this week’s flooding already brought down vulnerable material. “(But) no storm brings down everything that is susceptible. There’s almost always more” that could come down, Randall Jibson, a research geologist with the US Geological Survey. said.
The threat of such terrible slides could be reduced by building more basins to slow down storm runoff and collect debris, but the biggest problem civil authorities face is getting the public ready to evacuate during heavy rains. Montecito and Carpinteria are especially vulnerable to mudslides because their steep terrain in some places goes from thousands of feet above sea level to the ocean in just a few miles, said Tom Fayram, a deputy public works director with Santa Barbara County.
No matter the threat though, most people who lost homes and even family members in the slides, will just rebuild and hope they are luckier next time. That’s how it rolls in Southern California.