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In California, Santa Barbara Community Holds Vigil For Mudslide Victims


In Santa Barbara County, three people are still missing after last week's devastating mudslides. Twenty people were killed, and more than 70 homes were destroyed. And at this point, officials say they don't think there will be any more survivors. With us from member station KCLU is reporter Lance Orozco, who has been covering the disaster in Montecito, Calif. Hey, Lance.


MCEVERS: So I understand there are rescue teams out there still searching. What are they doing?

OROZCO: Well, there are, but what's happening has changed a little bit. It was a search and rescue mission for the last five and a half days, and now it's a search and recovery mission at this point. They're hoping - they're still hoping to find some of those missing four people. But at this point, they really don't expect to find them alive. They've been through the disaster zone multiple times, and it's at the point now where some of the search teams actually are being released. There's more than thousand - a thousand searchers still involved, but some of them are going to go home during the next day or so.

MCEVERS: You were out there today. What did you see?

OROZCO: Well, it's hard to even summarize it because you've got mountains of debris everywhere. You have boulders the size of cars. You've got - houses are literally filled with debris and mud. In fact, you look at them, and there's basically, like, big pieces of wood and mud and boulders just sticking out of the windows. And just as bad as Highway 101, which is the main coastal highway from Los Angeles to San Francisco, it could be days still before they're able to clear the mud and debris from that.

MCEVERS: There was a vigil for the victims in Santa Barbara last night. Tell us about some of the people who died.

OROZCO: Well, thousands of people gathered last night. It was really the first chance the community has had to get together since this disaster hit. And it really just struck all the way across the board. The dead range from 3 to 89 years old. And unfortunately, one of the missing still is only 2 years old. And it's just a little bit of - slice of everybody in the community - a popular retired teacher, a real estate agent, a doctor and his daughter, a landscaper.

One person, Josie Gower, who is - really popular person in the community; she was involved in every community event you could think of - she and her boyfriend were in the second story of their house when the disaster hit. And then unfortunately they came downstairs to see what all the noise was about. They were both swept away. And they found him covered up to his neck in mud. He was stuck, but he survived. And unfortunately, Josie did not. She was swept away, and she died.

MCEVERS: How many people are still under evacuation orders, and when will they get to go home?

OROZCO: That's a great question. At one point, there were 30,000 people affected by this. It's now down to about 10,000 people - basically all of Montecito, which is a little over 8,000 people and some neighboring areas as well. And the question of when they get to go home is a good one. It could be a week. It could be two because they have no power. They have no gas. They have no sewer. They have no water. And this is even for the homes that weren't damaged. And of course many homes were damaged. And the roads are narrow, mostly two-way roads in this area, and they're just a mess.

MCEVERS: And of course this all started actually with a fire in December. Can you just explain how that happened?

OROZCO: Yes. Well, I think listeners around the country are going to remember this because the Thomas Fire got a lot of attention at the time. It started December 4, and it burned actually all the way up until this last week. And it was ironically the flood - the water, the storm - that helped get it under control. But it started more than 35 miles away from Montecito, and it took 12 days to reach Montecito. And what happened is it burned all of the mountains right behind the community of Montecito as well as neighboring communities. And so when this storm hit last week, it basically just allowed the water to sweep right down off the mountains into the community.

MCEVERS: Reporter Lance Orozco, thank you so much.

OROZCO: Thank you.


Lance Orozco