Officials Estimate It Will Be Another 10 Days Before Montecito Evacuees Can Go Home

Home / Uncategorized / Officials Estimate It Will Be Another 10 Days Before Montecito Evacuees Can Go Home

Highway 101 reopened as human remains-detection dog teams make big push looking for last two missing victims

California Highway Patrol officers staff a checkpoint at East Valley Road and Sycamore Canyon Road. County officials said Sunday that it may be another 10 days before residents are allowed back into Montecito. Click to view larger
California Highway Patrol officers staff a checkpoint at East Valley Road and Sycamore Canyon Road. County officials said Sunday that it may be another 10 days before residents are allowed back into Montecito. (Urban Hikers / Noozhawk photo)
By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor | @magnoli | updated logo 10:18 p.m. | January 21, 2018 | 8:45 p.m.
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It likely will be another 10 days before authorities start allowing thousands of evacuees to return to their homes in Montecito, which was devastated by massive flooding and mud flows nearly two weeks ago, according to Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown.

That news came Sunday as Highway 101 in Montecito reopened, and human remains-detection dog search teams made a big push looking for the last two missing victims from the Jan. 9 disaster.

The county is “now on the edge of pivoting toward recovery,” said Rob Lewin, director of the Office of Emergency Management.

All “important utilities” — water, sanitation and electricity — are on track to be back in service by Jan. 31, he said, although some areas that suffered heavy damage will not be repaired by then.

Brown said the plan is to get businesses, the post office and schools ready to go so they have their doors open when residents return.

“Primary utilities should be up and running by the 31st, and we’re making that date as the target, on which we will, no later than that, begin the repopulation process in Montecito,” Brown said at a Sunday afternoon news conference at Earl Warren Showgrounds.

Thousands of residents have been out of their homes since Brown issued a mandatory evacuation order Jan. 8, and it was expanded Jan. 11 to the “public safety exclusion zone” where emergency responders, debris removal and repair crews are working.

Search-and-rescue personnel dig through mud and debris inside the parking garage at Montecito Shores on Sunday. Click to view larger
Search-and-rescue personnel dig through mud and debris inside the parking garage at Montecito Shores on Sunday. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)
Allowing residents back into Montecito will be incremental, with priority given to people whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged, so they can retrieve whatever valuables and possessions they can still find or salvage from the disaster, Brown said.

The county will have more information about the process later this week, he added.

The reopening of Highway 101 should make a big difference for the effort, since the heavy debris-removal trucks and equipment using local roads can now use the freeway.

People should expect heavy truck traffic on Highway 101 for a while, according to California Highway Patrol Capt. Cindy Pontes, who advised people to carpool and use public transit in the meantime.

The CHP-escorted bus trips for commuting workers are canceled, since Highway 101 is reopened.

Sunday’s operational map of the incident shows debris flows, in blue, from Montecito, San Ysidro and Romero creeks. Click to view larger
Sunday’s operational map of the incident shows debris flows, in blue, from Montecito, San Ysidro and Romero creeks. (Courtesy photo)
Caltrans District 5 maintenance manager Chris Chalk said all lanes reopened at noon Sunday, and that crews had removed more than 100,000 cubic yards of material from the mile-long stretch of freeway.

Search dog teams located the body of 28-year-old Faviola Benitez Calderon on Saturday, and Brown said the search process will change for the two victims who are still missing: John “Jack” Cantin, 17, and 2-year-old Lydia Sutthithepa.

Twenty human remains-detection dogs were working the area Sunday, and “for the most part we have done everything we can do for the accessible areas,” he said.

There are areas, including on private property, that have not been searched as thoroughly because of accessibility issues, so there is still hope of finding the remains, he said.

A small tractor removes mud from the parking garage at Montecito Shores. Click to view larger
A small tractor removes mud from the parking garage at Montecito Shores. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)
“It’s very possible that they could be underneath a significant amount of mud that is drying and has to be removed,” Brown said. “It’s possible one or more of them could have been swept out to sea.”

There are 21 confirmed fatalities in the disaster, and Brown released a map Sunday showing where each victim lived, and where their bodies were found.

Of the Montecito Creek, San Ysidro Creek and Romero Creek flash floods and debris flows, the Montecito Creek area was hit the hardest, he said.

A Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department map shows where mudslide victims lived, and where they were later found. Click to view larger
A Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department map shows where mudslide victims lived, and where they were later found. (SBSO photo)
The map shows 15 victims found along the Montecito Creek debris field, along Hot Springs/Olive Mill roads, from Pepper Lane all the way down to Butterfly Beach.

Highway 192/East Valley Road was the line between the mandatory evacuation zone (above) and voluntary evacuation zone (below), and Brown said seven people, including six confirmed fatalities and one missing person, originated below East Valley Road.

Another 12 were “right on the border” of East Valley Road, he said, but still were within the voluntary evacuation zone.

Only four of the victims originated north of East Valley Road, in the mandatory evacuation zone.

Evacuation areas and other storm response plans are being discussed among county officials and other agencies, including the Department of Water Resources, U.S. Geological Survey, CalFire watershed emergency response team, and Los Padres National Forest Burned Area Emergency Response team, Lewin said.

“The storm taught us a lot and also changed the water courses,” he said.

Officials plan to present new risk areas to the public, he added.

How to help, and how to recognize a fraud
There are many ways to help victims of the disaster, and Lewin mentioned Sunday that an immediate need is temporary housing for people whose homes were destroyed or are uninhabitable.

The United Ways of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties have a Thomas Fire & Flood Relief Fund, and the Santa Barbara Foundation’s Community Disaster Relief Fund supports nonprofit organizations that are active in short-term and long-term recovery.

Search-and-rescue personnel dig through mud and debris inside the parking garage at Montecito Shores on Sunday. Click to view larger
Search-and-rescue personnel dig through mud and debris inside the parking garage at Montecito Shores on Sunday. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)
District Attorney Joyce Dudley reminded local residents to be on the lookout for three disaster-related crimes: price gouging, entering an area closed because of disaster, and Federal Emergency Management Agency fraud.

People can file consumer complaints of price gouging, which is when someone charges 10 percent above what was the pre-disaster-declaration price.

Complaint forms are available on the District Attorney’s website, Dudley said.

“It is not only unlawful, it is also despicable given the tragedies of the disasters that have fallen upon this county,” she said.

There have already been people stopped and cited for entering disaster areas, which can be a misdemeanor, Brown said. It applies to people found in the area who have no reason to be there, he added.

Law enforcement safety patrols are active all over Montecito, with mutual aid from neighboring departments, Brown noted.

Dudley had previously warned residents of FEMA fraud, in which people pretend to work for the agency so they can conduct identity theft or other crimes.

She added that FEMA will never ask for money to start a claim, and FEMA inspectors will never come to your home unless you previously filled out a form. Even then, she advised, always ask for photo identification before you do anything else.

Article by noozhawk.com

— Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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