Wedding albums. Baseball card collections. Sculptures. A WWII canteen. These are just a few of the personal items that have been pulled from the muck after the mudslide, posted to a newly created Facebook “Montecito Disaster Lost & Found” page, and returned to their grateful owners. Some reunions are happy and bright, piercing through all that darkness of the late-night tragedy. Others are bittersweet, providing surviving family members keepsake memories they thought had been washed away.
Six days after the disaster, Kelly Hill was walking along the beach below La Conchita when she came across a doll caked in tar and mud lying in the sand. It had tumbled down Montecito Creek into the ocean. The tide pulled it 10 miles east. Hill picked up the doll and took it home, dabbing away the tar and setting it out to dry. She posted a photo to the Facebook page and watched as it was shared more than 10,000 times. “It sounds silly; it’s just a doll,” said Hill, “but I looked at it for a month, thinking: ‘Where’s your family?’”
Renee Stahl Dektor and her family live in Montecito’s Riven Rock neighborhood. They’d evacuated well before the debris flow sheared off their home’s garage, which contained countless family mementos. Dektor gave up hope she’d recover any of it. Then she checked the Lost & Found page. “My heart just stopped,” she said. “That was my daughter’s special doll when she was one year old.”
Dektor and her daughter Amelia, now 11, drove down to meet Hill. “She was very kind, very sweet,” said Dektor. Hill said she was glad to provide the pair a small token of comfort. “I was just so happy that dolly made it back to Amelia.” So far, Dektor said, it’s the only item from their garage they’ve found. But it means a lot to them. “In the midst of all the madness, it’s nice to find a small light at the end of the tunnel.”