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Community remembers Montecito debris flow victims on three year anniversary

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Posted at 10:35 PM, Jan 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-10 02:11:20-05

The 23 lives lost in mudslides that devastated the community of Montecito January 9, 2018 will never be forgotten.

Those lives were remembered and honored on the third anniversary of the debris flow Saturday night January 9th, 2021 during a commemorative live-stream ceremony.

The event began at 6:30 p.m. with an invocation from Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Taylor.

Then Firefighters with the Montecito Fire Department lit 23 candles in honor of the 23 victims of the debris flow followed by a moment of silence.

It was followed by the ringing of 23 bells from local churches and schools and then a lighting of a searchlight at Montecito Union School as a symbol of community support and solidarity for the victims and survivors alike.

On this day in years past, community members would gather for a bell-ringing service, but the in-person remembrance event went virtual this year amid the pandemic.

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

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

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.

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

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

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23 people lost their lives in the 1/9 Debris Flow. Two others, 17-year-old John "Jack" Cantin and 2-year-old Lydia Sutthitepa, who were swept away have never been found.

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 23 people were killed. Two bodies, both children who were swept away, have never been found.

In the last year, University of California Santa Barbara students have joined the mission to bring closure to the Montecito community.

This year's commemorative event was sponsored by the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade, Montecito Association, and the Montecito Community Foundation.