by Bob Hazard
Body of Missing Woman Found
On Saturday morning, January 20, 2018 just before 10 AM, specially trained rescue dogs and their handlers recovered the body of missing victim Faviola Benitez-Calderon, age 28, in the 100 block of Santo Tomas Lane near Olive Mill Road. She was the mother of 10-year-old Jonathan Benitez, deceased, and his cousin, 3-year-old Kailly Benitez and her mother, 27-year-old Marilyn Ramos, also deceased. Survivors of this family tragedy were the father and the baby, who was recovered at some distance downstream from the family home.
The death toll in the January 9th Montecito mudflow is now 21. Still missing are Jack Cantin, age 17, and Lydia Sutthithepa, age 2, both formerly living in the Olive Mill/Hot Springs corridor.
Report on the Injured
A total of 28 patients were admitted to Cottage Hospital with storm-related injuries. As of Friday, only four patients remain hospitalized, including two in critical condition, according to Maria Zate, Cottage Health spokeswoman
Re-population planning is still very complicated, and target dates are very fluid at this point. Here’s what we do know.
The 101 through Montecito is now open! Heavy truck traffic will continue, but commuters from points south of Montecito will be able to get to and from work in Santa Barbara. Commercial deliveries can be made to local businesses, and the pace of activity outside of Montecito should quickly return to normal.
Because of the ongoing need to provide for the efficient movement of recovery vehicles and the protection of our community from potential looters, we can expect to see ramp closures at the Olive Mill, San Ysidro and Sheffield exits for some period of time. The Army Corp of Engineers, utility restorers, creek bed cleaners, manhole maestros, water line wizards, drainage experts, bridge repairers and mud movers all have work to complete without interruption from local residents. The California Highway Patrol is maintaining 28 traffic control points in Montecito to ensure “No Way In (or Out)” without proper identification and authorization.
The re-opening of Route 192/East Valley Road remains uncertain. According to County Sheriff Bill Brown, one bridge on East Valley has been condemned, another one has sustained significant damage, and essential electrical work must be completed in a third section of the roadway.
Much work has been completed over the last few days that will lead to the early re-opening of many of the restaurants, shops and other businesses on Coast Village Road. This achievement will mark a big step in returning our community to some sense of semi-normalcy.
Residential re-population will happen in phases, as neighborhoods become fully habitable, as roadways become safely accessible and proper security can be maintained. There are very few specifics at this time. However, as the various utility companies come closer to completion of their expected repairs, the staging re-population will become much easier for officials to forecast.
Emergency Access to your Home
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department is tasked with restricting public traffic into the recovery zones of Montecito and protecting our unoccupied homes. However, Sheriff Bill Brown notes that it is possible for Montecito residents to make very brief return visits to their homes in the event of true personal emergencies. Anyone who believes he/she has a valid reason to gain access to a home should contact the Sheriff’s call center at 833-688-5551. If the requested access is approved, the resident will be personally escorted to the residence by a member of the Sheriff’s Department. Providing access for brief home visits is extremely labor-intensive and requests for this service should be kept to an absolute minimum.
Montecito Water Lawsuit
In response to recent news about the filing of a lawsuit against the Montecito Water District, Palmer Jackson, Jr. writes, “I haven’t seen anybody comment on the lawsuit of the water district that these lawyers and a couple of home-owners are essentially suing all of the rest of us — since we all own our water district. Is this not true? And if it is true, could we not counter-sue them by claiming that they are attempting to harm the rest of us (many of us with damaged homes) by suing the water district. If the water district has to settle, don’t we all have to pay that out of our own pockets — the deductible at least?”
The Montecito Water District responded with a statement dated January 20, 2018:
“The catastrophic impact of the mudslides in Montecito has been tragic, to say the least. From the moment this devastation began, Montecito Water District’s focus has been supporting first responders and working as expeditiously as possible to restore water service to the Montecito community. The intensity of the storm event is beyond dispute, as evidenced by the massive boulders which were dislodged by the mudslides. We have all been impacted by this tragedy.
“On Tuesday, January 16th, 2018 we learned that Montecito Water District was named as a Defendant in a lawsuit that has been filed as a result of the mudslides. The District believes that the filing of this action at this time is unfortunate, and any allegations of liability on the part of the District are irresponsible, highly speculative, and premature. The District is confident that forensic evidence and expert analysis will show that to be true. Nevertheless, now that litigation is pending, on the advice of District counsel, Montecito Water District will have no further comment at this time.”
Restoration of Electrical Power
Rudy Gonzales of Southern California Edison reports that there are some 1,100 homes in Montecito without power as of last Friday. Southern California Edison expects to restore service to all homes not destroyed or significantly damaged by January 31.
Restoration of Gas
Southern California Gas reports that natural gas service has been restored to 1,000 homes and businesses by gaining access to areas that were previously closed off or under mud. Montecito customers, who were evacuated WILL NOT be billed for service during the evacuation period, and the company will forgive the last bill for those homes deemed destroyed or severely damaged and uninhabitable.
SoCal Gas has an excellent website https:// www.socalgas.com/newsroom/montecito or call 1-800-427-2200 24/7. Register or log in to “My Account.” When SoCal Gas is ready to do connections in your neighborhood they will attempt to contact customers in advance via an automated telephone call, text message and e-mail as to when the reconnection process to individual residences and buildings will begin. On the website is a daily, color-coded update map of gas service restoration areas as the occur.
Restoration of Water
Repairs are ahead of schedule. Nick Turner, GM of the Montecito Water District (MWD), reports that water may be available at all taps as soon as January 22. In the last nine days, crews from the City of Santa Barbara, MWD and their contractors, have repaired seven breaks in the District’s 14-inch highline transmission pipeline. Two breaks from 60 to 120 feet long in the pipeline from Jameson Reservoir are being repaired, with a completion date of January 22. Of the 13 breaks 20 to 50 feet long in the local distribution system, five have been repaired, and the rest of the work should be completted by January 31. Nineteen fire hydrants were sheared off. All have been located, repaired or replaced.
The District will work with FEMA and the State Office of Emergency Services to obtain funding for the ongoing work.
Restoration of Sewer Service
Diane Gabriel, head of the Montecito Sanitary System, reports that the wastewater treatment plant and all four lift stations were undamaged. Crews have checked 1,350 of the District’s 2,000 manholes and 1,000 are undamaged. The others are choked with mud and are being cleaned out. Crews are also assessing and cleaning the District’s 75 miles of sewer pipeline.
Montecito Mail Pickup
Blair and Heidi Whitney write, “How do we get our mail? We have a PO Box in the Upper Village Post Office.”
The United States Post Office reports that all Montecito mail can be picked up at the Santa Barbara Post Office located at 107 Nopalitos Way, near Milpas Street, south of the 101. Expect significant delays unless you get in line at least 15 minutes before opening.
Flood Information and Emergency Assistance
The local Flood Emergency Assistance Center at Calvary Chapel, 1 North Calle Cesar Chavez, offers a variety of recovery services to affected flood residents, including housing and hotel information and public utility information kiosks. A FEMA service trailer is parked outside the center. Hours are 11:00 am to 6:30 pm on weekdays; 10:00 am to 2:00 pm on Saturdays; and closed on Sunday.