A somber candlelit vigil to remember the victims of the mudflow that inundated Montecito on January 9 took place at the Santa Barbara Courthouse just a few minutes after search officials concluded a meeting to brief the media on the job of finding survivors. Most of them drove from Earl Warren Showgrounds to the courthouse’s Sunken Gardens, which were full to overflowing. At one point during the vigil, Congressmember Salud Carbajal enjoined the mourners to look around and observe that all the community was present, and Supervisor Das Williams — who took Carbajal’s place in the 1st District, which includes Montecito — reminded everyone that not only the rich lived there.
At Earl Warren earlier, Sheriff Bill Brown said that after 130 hours of searching for survivors, the rescue task had this morning turned into the recovery of the dead. The search and rescue groups had carefully gone through the debris field that stretched from the foothills to the ocean looking for signs or sounds of life, he explained at the 4 p.m. media conference on Sunday, and the conclusion was inevitable. Mutual aid resources continued to arrive to help, he continued, and others that were not needed were being released.
Tom Fayram of County Public Works added that of the debris basins and creeks being dug out again for the next rainstorm, the Montecito Creek Debris Basin continued to be carefully gone through by search and recovery teams. The bulldozers, Fayram said, were beginning to return the roads to two-lane passageways.
Brown acknowledged the hardship Montecito residents were going through, many having been out of their homes for nearly a week. Deputies were allowing people to retrieve personal items from their homes, he said, “but make sure it is an absolutely necessity.”
A map has also been created at the Montecito Water District (MWD) website for residents of Montecito and Summerland to determine if they are under the “boil your water” instruction, General Manager Nick Turner announced. Residents in some areas receive a bill from the City of Santa Barbara but actually receive water from MWD.
Turner also enumerated the breaks in major water pipes and the repairs ongoing. Some of the repairs were temporary and some were permanent, but all were being done by more than 100 consultants, engineers, and repair crew members. Service to homes needed to be examined, he said, and some of the connections were under many feet of mud.
Likewise, Jimmie Cho, a senior vice president with the Southern California Gas Company, said crews needed to get in touch with homeowners to restore service. He asked people to register at “My Account” on the SoCalGas website to get their gas turned back on once allowed back into town.
Progress was being made on digging Highway 101 out from under the mud, said Jim Shivers, Caltrans District 5 spokesperson, and the streams of water had abated. About 125 feet of the northbound lanes were now visible, and about 90 feet of the southbound. Caltrans should have a better idea by late Monday of when the work will be completed, he said.
The Family Assistance Center at First Presbyterian Church will stay in business there through Tuesday, announced Suzanne Grimmesey with County Behavioral Wellness, and then it will move to Calvary Chapel at 1 North Calle César Chávez on Wednesday. There, childcare and Spanish translation services will be added to the resources and services currently available, from permit planning to loss of employment. The one-stop center for Thomas Fire and mudflow information can be reached at (833) 688-5551.
The next community update takes place on Tuesday, January 16, after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The community meeting will be held at La Cumbre Junior High School (2255 Modoc Rd.) at 4 p.m.
Editor’s Note: This story was corrected on January 15 as to the length of Highway 101 freed of mud and direction.