Thousands of people have been displaced since deadly mudslides ripped through Montecito earlier this month. On Thursday, some residents returned to their home for a few hours, escorted in on tour buses, past the police checkpoints that prohibited entry to their neighborhoods.
Much of Montecito is still under evacuation, with officials working to ensure the safety of the area, restore ruptured gas and water lines, and search. Twenty-one people were killed as a result of the mudslide, and two children are still missing.
First responders gathered in the parking lot of a local school Thursday morning to assist people being shuttled into the area. “We want to do whatever we can to help people today,” Lt. Brian Olmstead told the group before the buses began to run.
Thursday was the first time that Bob Maloy and his family would return to their home in the Glen Oaks neighborhood of Montecito since the mudslide tore through their home with frightening force. “We’re hoping to get in and just inspect the place,” he said. With heavy work boots in hand, Maloy took several protective suits for himself and his wife. On his phone, Malloy showed several photos of a crushed vehicle in the family’s garage and another that showed a wall of mud eclipsing the home’s first story and encroaching on the second.
Yards from where buses were leaving, Direct Relief staff distributed protective gear to others re-entering the mudslide area. Coveralls, gloves, goggles and N95 masks were provided for free to anyone who needed them. Direct Relief will provide more protective equipment in the coming days as more people return to the area to begin clean-up. Information can be found on Direct Relief’s Facebook page here.
Public health officials urged people returning to the area to avoid exposure to the mud, which could contain raw sewage, diesel fuel and other contaminants. Protective coveralls, gloves, masks and goggles — all of which can be disposed of after a single use — can limit exposure to the mud and debris as people begin to return to mudslide-impacted areas.
The health concerns are myriad, from what could be in the mud to what could be in the air.
“Black mold is a concern as people return to homes that have been flooded,” said Ashlea Coski of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department. An N95 mask can help filter some particulates in the air, and is effective when it forms a tight seal around a person’s mouth and nose. Direct Relief is also equipping volunteer groups involved in the recovery, like Habitat for Humanity, with protective gear as they plan clean-up events in the area.
Six utility vehicles and a four-wheel-drive truck to assist first responders have been donated to date. The Montecito Fire Department, Santa Barbara County and City Fire Departments, and Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue specifically requested specialty vehicles to help continue their search and rescue operations in extreme terrain. Other gear for first responders has also been donated: water rescue gear, inflatable kayak, safety lights, rope systems and more. Tetanus vaccines have been delivered to the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, who have been administering the vaccines, free of charge, to anyone impacted by the mudslide in Montecito.