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EDM DigestMontecito Mudslide Strains Emergency Responders’ Recovery Efforts Allison G. S. Knox January 12, 2018
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By Allison G. S. Knox
Contributor, EDM Digest

A Southern California community, ravaged by the worst wildfire in the state’s history just last month, is now digging out from a horrific mudslide. The death toll from the wave of mud and debris that struck Montecito early Tuesday morning stands at 17. At least five people are still missing.

“Floodwaters and mudslides destroyed 65 homes and damaged 462 other residences,” spokeswoman Susan Klein-Rothschild said Thursday, according to CNN. Klein-Rothschild is the Deputy Director of the Santa Barbara County Health Department.

In addition, eight commercial buildings were destroyed and 20 were damaged.

Many of the same rescuers who fought the Thomas fire in Santa Barbara County are now frantically combing the area for survivors of the mudslide.

What Caused the Montecito Mudslide?

According to experts, the mudslide was the result of recent torrential rains. Rainwater drenched and destabilized the hillsides above Montecito that the recent wildfire had stripped bare of vegetation.

In addition, the current drought in Southern California only makes the potential for more mudslides worse, Luke Whelan wrote in Mother Jones magazine. These mudslides are expected to happen again.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the areas that are most at risk for mud or landslides include:

  • Land where wildfires or human modification destroyed vegetation
  • Areas where landslides previously occurred
  • Steep slopes and areas below slopes or canyons
  • Slopes altered by the construction of buildings and roads
  • Channels along a stream or river
  • Areas where surface runoff is directed

Emergency Considerations of Mudslides

Mudslides cause heavy damage. For example, powerful mudslides wash away entire mountainsides, tragically taking with them homes, other structures and human lives.

Also, mudslides leave behind serious safety issues for public safety employees working in affected areas, including:

  • Unsafe buildings
  • Impassible roads
  • Rapidly moving water
  • Downed live power lines
  • Broken water and sewage lines that can cause serious illnesses

These conditions can make it difficult – and often dangerous – for first responders to get to affected areas and provide relief for residents.

Emergency managers need to recognize the possibility of future mudslides and determine which, if any, evacuation routes might not be available.

In the next few weeks, first responders will continue to develop the specific resources they need to manage this disaster. Numerous nonprofit organizations will undoubtedly assist in the recovery and rebuilding efforts.

But the Montecito mudslide disaster is not an easy emergency to work. Time is of the essence. The ground remains unstable and the potential for further deaths and injuries remains. Also, residents left homeless will require shelter.

The Montecito community will need months, if not years, to completely recover.

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