Friday, January 12, 2018


Coast Village Road five hours after the devastating storm

My daughter phoned 911 and found their switchboard frantic as they were being inundated with emergency calls.

I called my friends Howard and Wally, who the day before had wisely evacuated from Montecito's foothills to a Santa Barbara hotel.

They immediately rallied and tried to reach us getting only as far as Coast Village Road, itself flooded and muddy.  Trying to get onto Oliver Mill Road--our neighborhood--was impossible as it had become a fifteen-foot high river of debris-filled mud, central to many of the fatalities that occurred.

My buddies were able to tell emergency crews on the scene where we were trapped, far more effective than a 911 call.

The problem at this point, about 4:43, was that the emergency crews could not physically reach us.  

So now it was a waiting game.

The good news:  no new mud surges, and lighter rain; just that awful pink-yellow glow in the sky that made no sense.

The bad:  I looked from the upstairs balcony onto the yard below and beheld utter and complete devastation.

A rescue crew arrived on the scene and called up to us, and after ascertaining that we did not need immediate medical attention went off to deal with more pending emergencies on our lane, promising to return.

Cries for help filled the air, followed by the sound of jackhammers and saws as rescuers (including a scuba diver) did their work.

The Johnson family from next door appeared in our forecourt, which was not flooded (the house acted as a buffer) and asked if they could remain.

Augie Johnson had just heroically saved a small toddler from beneath one of his cars (another of his vehicles had just floated down the creek).  The toddler must have been swept from higher elevation and become mangled in debris.  Augie removed mud from the child's mouth, got him breathing, and handed him tor rescuers on the scene.

Now the Johnsons (four persons and a dog) needed a place to wait.  I yelled down to access the garage and go up to the apartment over it, which they did.

As daylight dawned, the rescuers returned, ready to evacuate all of us. They broke through glass doors in two places and quickly configured our routing out.

One of them called out, "You have a little dog?"

"Yes," I replied, having joined them in the mud on the ground floor.  "Upstairs."

"No, over here."

I could hardly believe it.  Lulu was in his arms. Alive. 

I cannot imagine how Lulu had been able to escape.  Usually a deep sleeper, I was certain by now she had been buried in her doggie bed.  But Lulu is a survivor, and must have somehow scampered onto one of the chairs or tables that had wedged up against the walls.

A golden moment.

Now we had to move fast, a procession of rescuers and family members, both dogs in our arms.

What normally would be a thirty-second walk down a country lane to the main road took about fifteen minutes, negotiating waist-deep mud, downed trees, boulders--a zigzag path on terrain that to me was unrecognizable.

Sheriff Bill Brown later likened the area to a World War I battleground.  I wasn't around for World War I, but his depiction seems about right.

The river that was Olive Mill Road had dissipated enough for heavy-duty rescue vehicles to traverse.
We were loaded onto the open-air rescue vehicle already filled with others, everyone muddied from head to toe.

As the vehicles drove south on Olive Mill we were wide-eyed and aghast at the devastation that had been caused to the ranch houses on the east side of the road:  all had been ripped from their foundations, walls down.  We could see right through every house.

The vehicle stopped to collect more survivors, squeezing in as many as we could, along with their very grateful pets.

Then a right turn onto Oliver Mill Lane and a roundabout route to the strip mall near Von's.  We alighted outside Starbucks.

A latte would have been nice, but, alas, they were closed.