Friday, January 12, 2018


During the wee hours of Tuesday, 9 January, I lay sleeping in bed, occasionally awakening to listen for rain, surprised there was so little, given the forecast.

That changed at around 3:03 a.m. when the skies opened and a torrent of rain pounded down.

Sometime around 3:45 a.m., laying awake, I began to feel the earth shudder.  On top of everything else, I thought, are we now having an earthquake?

I got out of bed and walked to the glass doors that face north toward the mountains and Montecito Peak.  I expected to get a sense of how hard it was raining.

But I could hardly believe what I saw, an image that will stick with me forever:  an avalanche of muddy water heading straight at me.  It was surreal.  Like a disaster movie a la Indiana Jones.

I turned and within several steps the water smashed through the door windows behind me and, within ten seconds, filled the bedroom knee-deep in mud.

I grabbed my five year-old grandson, who had been camping out with me, and did a handoff to his mother, my daughter, who had also awakened and looked out her upper floor window facing north, terrified by what our backyard already looked like.

All this in mostly blackness, no power, illuminated by an eerie yellow-pink glow near the foothills that I later discovered was a fire ignited by a glass explosion that blew up several houses and took lives.

We were lucky to have an upper floor; many ranch-style houses in our neighborhood did not.

Moments later mud and water burst through the glass doors in the open-plan kitchen/living room, launching furniture in all directions, lodging a sofa and stuffed armchairs in the oddest places.

When that surge ended I was waist deep in mud and sludge, dressed only in boxer shorts and a pair of Merrell Jungle Mocs I'd somehow managed to slip my feet into.

At this point, one dog was accounted for (which had had the good sense to run upstairs), one not.  Armed with a flashlight, which quickly muddied and died, I waded through mud into the den looking for Lulu.  I thought I could hear her whimper, so very slight, but I could not see her, and she did not respond to her name.  And when her whimpers went silent, I returned to the foyer to try to open the front door, a presumed escape.

Of course, the heavy door would not open, the mud thick and high and pressuring it shut tight. And good thing, because in my muddled thinking (and not knowing what was out there) leaving the house would have been the dumbest move of all.  Had I managed to open the door, the flow of mud would have blown me out to join a river that would have rushed me a quarter mile south to I-101, which had already been decimated and transformed into a lake.  I had a friend who suffered this fate.

Instead, I returned to the den to try to find Lulu, in vain.

After a short rest upstairs, I returned once again through the mud, climbing over furniture, holding onto hope I would find her, in the process not realizing that my legs were being cut up by sharp debris, parts of trees, I'd guess.

Finally, I had to give up, and returned to higher ground upstairs, full of sorrow thinking Lulu had been buried alive beneath three feet of mud.