My Disaster Relief Agency Is Based Near Montecito. Now Disaster Has Hit Home.

Crews work throughout Montecito to clean up mud and debris that flowed into the community on Jan. 9, 2018, with devastating consequences. (Tony Morain/Direct Relief)

(Editor’s note: This column was originally published in the Sacramento Bee on Jan. 12, 2018.)

Because the nonprofit humanitarian-aid organization I work for specializes in providing medical assistance to people in need – and works in every U.S. state and territory and 80 countries – the last six months have been busy.

The series of biggest-ever hurricanes were interspersed with the biggest-in-a-century earthquake in Mexico (followed by another smaller-scale but more damaging Mexico quake), and followed in turn by the most deadly wildfires in California history in Sonoma, and a series of Southern California fires that included the largest-ever-by-size. Our organization was asked to help in each situation, and we have, which is why I have been in each place, multiple times, over the past six months.

My familiarity with emergency situations and friendship with those whose sustained efforts in their aftermath our organization supports has provided a rare privilege in life. I’ve encountered far more poignant examples of leadership, selflessness, brilliance, courage, and compassion than I would have ever found had that been a conscious effort, which it hasn’t.

Unfortunately, none of that mattered much early Tuesday morning, when at 3:30 a.m. with rain falling hard around our Montecito home as I was checking downspouts, I heard an earthly rumbling sound, but at an unearthly amplified volume, and realized that I was in a moment of the type whose immediate aftermath I was familiar…

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