Montecito family recalls harrowing rescue the morning of mudslid - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Montecito family recalls harrowing rescue the morning of mudslides

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For many Montecito residents, this week's evacuations come just weeks after returning home after Thomas Fire evacuations.

Ben and Houton Hyatt, with their 7-year-old daughter Riley and 8-year-old son Jack, had just settled back into their Montecito home, ready to leave the chaos of 2017 behind. Then, Tuesday morning's mudslides hit, leaving them unsure when they'll see their home again.

Where the Hyatt's home sat in Montecito was in a voluntary evacuation zone, but Houton says they were ready to evacuate "at the drop of a hat" should the order turn to mandatory.

Before that order came, the mudslides did.  

"Destruction, complete destruction," Houton said.

Houton explained that on Monday evening, "the firefighters said they were starting to evacuate Casa Dorinda and that's what kind of made me nervous."  

A neighbor on the 200 block of Olive Mill Lane near the creek was also told to evacuate and began spreading word to neighbors, including the Hyatts.

As Monday night came, Ben had decided to stay up to warning his family should the mudslides start. He fell asleep for a moment, but says, "I was awoken when the power flickered and our ceiling fan started going and then I looked up at our skylights and they were orange."

Ben went out the front door, watching the water rise in the street from one inch to three inches as the rain began pounding harder. Before he knew it, "the house shake-shook and I just started screaming, 'get up, get up!'"

Houton woke up to Ben's screams.  

"I looked out the window in the bedroom and it went from zero mud, well, it went from ankle level to almost like above my knee level on the doors, rising, rising and I just didn't know when it was going to stop," she said.

Ben threw their 8-year-old son Jack onto the top bunk in case water or mud began filling the house. Riley was at a friend's near the beach in a safer area.

"We grabbed a bunch of furniture and just started throwing it up against the doors and the glass and then you're like how are we, we have a single story house, how are we going to get out of here, how are we getting to the roof?" Houton said.

The windows and French doors of the family's home began budging and creaking, but thankfully they held. Other neighbors weren't so lucky.

"I heard what I thought was a cat meowing but it was a woman screaming and she was right across the street from us," Ben explained.  

The mud had slammed through a neighbor's house across the street, pushing her and her mattress up against a wall, trapping her there. 

Ben and Houton, unable to cross the "raging rapid down our street of probably four or five feet of stuff," waited helplessly. Thankfully, another neighbor also heard the screams and came to the rescue.

But that wasn't it.  Another mother and her two sons, trapped on a mattress as well, "surfed" down the street," landing on a neighbor's roof.

Houton and Ben desperately called and texted friends and family members. Cell signal, though, was weak. They eventually heard from a 9-1-1 dispatcher who told them crews were trying to reach them as quickly as possible but were stuck behind debris on the 101. Eventually, Houton was told, "they're not sending anybody until it gets light out and at that point, it was like five in the morning."

However, when rescuers did arrive, "such a sigh of relief to see them... it was amazing," Houton said through tears.

But getting out of their home was just the start.  

"It was so deep and there was so much stuff in the sludge that you couldn't see, you don't know what you're stepping over. There was logs, I don't even know, fences," she said.

The family trudged up the streets of their neighborhood to find neighbors in still standing homes welcoming evacuees with open arms.  

"Come into our house, giving them blankets, we're like, 'really? look at me,' and they're like 'no, come in, come in,'" Ben said.

Neighbors at the top of the hill offered warm food, showers, and even pet food to evacuees waiting to be brought down to the Vons parking lot.  It was something the Hyatts say they'll never forget. 

Something they did forget?

"Underwear, socks, he's still wearing our friend's pants," Houton said pointing at Ben's tan cargo pants.

The family did have small preparations in place, like a medical bag for Jack's nut allergy, important documents, and computers. The basics, like t-shirts and toothbrushes, required a trip to Target.

The Hyatt's say they're grateful for the Montecito community.  

"It's a beautiful place to live, yes, but it's the people who keep us there," Houton said. Like the families offering rentals for the Hyatts to use in other areas of the county while their home is remediated, or the kids' school, which organized a gathering on Thursday night to give families car seats, blankets, clothing, and most importantly, a familiar community to find comfort in.

While the shock and numbness still haven't completely worn off, Houton and Ben say they're thankful for the support local communities and businesses have provided. Their hotel is hosting evacuee families for a deeply discounted rate, creating a local community to recover with until they find more permanent housing. 

But more than anything, they're thankful they're okay.

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