Mudslide-stricken California town is all but emptied out
MONTECITO, Calif. — Most residents of mudslide-ravaged Montecito were under orders to clear out Friday as the search for victims dragged on and crews labored to clean up the muck and repair power, water and gas lines.
Even those who didn’t lose their homes in the disaster that left at least 17 people dead were told to leave for up to two weeks so they wouldn’t interfere with the rescue and recovery operation in the Southern California town of 9,000.
It was another frustrating turn for those living in Montecito, a town that has been under siege and subject to repeated evacuation orders in recent weeks, first because of a monster wildfire last month, then because of downpours and mudslides.
Cia Monroe said her family of four was lucky their home wasn’t ruined and they were all healthy and safe, though her daughter lost one of her best friends.
But Monroe said it was stressful after evacuating three times during the wildfire to be packing up a fourth time and looking at spending up to $3,000 a week for a hotel.
“Financially that’s a burden,” she said.
A fleet of large trucks and heavy equipment rolled into town Thursday, and the forces on the ground swelled to more than 1,200 workers.
Five people remained missing Friday.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said residents who had stayed behind or tried to check on damage in neighborhoods where homes were leveled and car-size boulders and trees blocked roads and littered properties were hindering the recovery effort.
Brown expanded what was known as the exclusion zone to incorporate most of the town. That meant that even those who had stayed behind would have to leave and those who entered the zone would be subject to arrest.
While the town is best known as a getaway for the rich and famous — the median home price among current listings is more than $4 million — there are also working families living in modest houses and apartments.
With most utilities out of commission or about to be cut off, staying behind was not really an option for many.
Sarah Ettman’s home was undamaged, and her section of town still had gas and electricity, even though nearby Romero Creek was choked with cars, trees and rocks.
Because she couldn’t re-enter the area if she left, Ettman arranged to have groceries delivered to her at a police checkpoint. But with gas and power expected to be shut off Saturday, she said she would heed the order to leave.
“I mean you’re losing all your basic health and sanitation services,” she said. “When those go down, you have to leave.”
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