Flood and mud­slide sur­vivors told to go

Sunday News - - WORLD -

LOS ANGELES Most res­i­dents of mud­slide-rav­aged Montecito are un­der or­ders to clear out as the search for vic­tims drags on and crews labour to re­pair power, wa­ter and gas lines as well as clean­ing up mas­sive piles of de­bris.

Even those who didn’t lose their homes in the dis­as­ter, which left at least 18 peo­ple dead, were told yes­ter­day to leave for up to two weeks so they wouldn’t in­ter­fere with the res­cue and re­cov­ery op­er­a­tion.

It was an­other frus­trat­ing turn for those liv­ing in the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia town, which has been 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 were lucky their home wasn’t ru­ined and they were all healthy and safe, though her daugh­ter lost one of her best friends.

But she said it was stress­ful, af­ter evac­u­at­ing three times dur­ing the wild­fire, to be pack­ing up a fourth time and look­ing at spend­ing up to US$3000 (NZ$4100) a week for a ho­tel.

‘‘Where do you go when you’re a fam­ily of four and you don’t have a sec­ond house?’’ Mon­roe asked, not­ing that some res­i­dents of the town had third and fourth homes. ‘‘Fi­nan­cially that’s a bur- den.’’

More than 1200 work­ers have poured into the town of about 9000 res­i­dents for the search and cleanup ef­fort.

Santa Bar­bara County Sher­iff Bill Brown said res­i­dents who had stayed be­hind or tried to check on dam­age in neigh­bour­hoods where homes were lev­elled and car-sized boul­ders and trees blocked roads and lit­tered prop­er­ties had hin­dered the re­cov­ery ef­fort.

Brown has ex­panded what was known as the pub­lic safety ex­clu­sion zone to in­cor­po­rate most of the town. This means that even those who stayed be­hind will have to leave, and peo­ple who en­ter the zone will be sub­ject to ar­rest.

Res­i­dents who re­mained in town yes­ter­day were ei­ther pack­ing up their cars with cloth­ing and other be­long­ings for their lat­est evac­u­a­tion, or stay­ing out of sight.

‘‘It is a lit­tle frus­trat­ing,’’ said Sarah Ettman, who planned to leave to­day. ‘‘It’s mar­tial law here, ba­si­cally. You know there are loot­ers be­ing caught, and there are so many gawk­ers and peo­ple that just have no busi­ness be­ing in here.’’

The body of the 18th vic­tim, Joseph Bleckel, 87, was found dead in his home near Romero Canyon, Brown said. The cause of his death was not an­nounced, but all the other vic­tims died from mul­ti­ple trau­matic in­juries due to a flash flood and mud­slides.

Brown named the five peo­ple still miss­ing, who in­clude Fabi­ola Ben­itez, the mother of Jonathan Ben­itez, a 10-year-old killed in the flood­ing.

On a pos­i­tive note, the drench­ing rains that un­leashed the deadly tor­rents man­aged to fi­nally con­tain the largest wild­fire in Cal­i­for­nia’s his­tory, which burned for weeks above Montecito and stripped the steep hills of veg­e­ta­tion, mak­ing them prone to mud­slides.

The United States For­est Ser­vice an­nounced yes­ter­day that the Thomas fire, which burned 1140 square kilo­me­tres, was now fully GETTY IMAGES con­tained.

While Montecito is best known as a get­away for the rich and fa­mous – the me­dian house price among cur­rent list­ings is more than US$4 mil­lion (NZ$5.5m) – there are also many work­ing fam­i­lies liv­ing in mod­est houses and apart­ments. With most util­i­ties out of com­mis­sion or about to be cut off, stay­ing be­hind is not an op­tion for many.

Ettman’s home was un­dam­aged, and her sec­tion of town still had gas and elec­tric­ity.

How­ever, ‘‘you’re los­ing all your ba­sic health and san­i­ta­tion ser­vices’’, Ettman said. ‘‘When those go down, you have to leave.’’ AP

Travis Zehnt­ner com­forts Teresa Drenick among the be­long­ings of her sis­ter, Re­becca Riskin, who was killed in a mud­slide, in Montecito yes­ter­day.

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