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1 year later: Remembering the Montecito mudslide

Posted at 5:53 PM, Jan 09, 2019

Community members will come together Wednesday night to mark the one-year anniversary of a tragic day in Montecito.

On Jan. 9, 2018, a heavy storm unleashed a torrent of mud and debris from the mountainsides above the community.

Aerial photo courtesy Matt Udkow, taken aboard the Santa Barbara County Air Support Unit’s Fire Copter 308


The area had recently been ravaged by the Thomas Fire. More than a half-inch of rain fell in about 15 minutes, and there was nothing to hold back the huge boulders, burned trees, dirt, and water.

Power was wiped out and it wasn’t until daylight that the true extent of the damage would be known.

Highway 101 below the Olive Mill Road overcrossing was covered with several feet of mud and debris. (KSBY photo)


The 1/9 Debris Flow, as it’s come to be called, destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes, Highway 101 was closed for nearly two weeks, and 21 people were killed. Two others who were swept away have never been found.

Despite the extent of the tragedy, many stories of compassion and community emerged, such as the rescue of a little boy and the connection between his and another family affected by the disaster:

And the creation of the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade, which has spent countless hours searching through the mud for the two missing victims and reuniting survivors with lost family mementos:

Plus, heroes emerged, going above and beyond to rescue those trapped in the mudslide:

But even after the rescues were complete, the community remained on edge as multiple storms in the following months prompted evacuations for those in flood zones.

Santa Barbara County emergency officials have since released a new flood risk map for the area below the Thomas Fire burn scar and are working to enhance the system for distributing emergency alerts.

Report outlines strengths, suggested improvements in county’s response to Thomas Fire, mudslide

Still, some questions remain about what led up to the debris flow. In December, the Los Angeles Times published an article that claimed Santa Barbara County knew about the dangers of a potentially destructive mudslide in Montecito but did little to prevent such a disaster. County officials have disputed the claims in the article.

Now, one year after the debris flow, the community is still recovering but standing strong.

Businesses along hard-hit Coast Village Road, for example, are making a comeback and are hopeful for the future:

A large crowd of community members, including many survivors, is expected to gather starting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday for a remembrance ceremony at Lower Manning Park. It will be followed by a walk to All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church for a bell-ringing service. Parking and shuttle information is available at this link.

KSBY News will broadcast the event live starting at 6:30.

On Wednesday, Rep. Salud Carbajal released a video statement reflecting on the one year anniversary of the 1/9 Debris Flow:

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office also released its own reflections on the events of Jan. 9, 2018: