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Candlelight Vigil Draws Thousands of Locals for Comfort, Commemoration of Montecito Flood Victims

Santa Barbara County Courthouse Sunken Garden aglow with grief and inspiration as community mourns dead, missing

 

Thousands of mourners, their faces reflecting the soft flickering light from small candles, quietly gathered in downtown Santa Barbara on Sunday evening, comforting each other with hugs and sharing tears over the 20 people killed in last week’s flash flooding that devastated Montecito.

A candlelight vigil for victims of the flooding and mudslides and an interfaith service were held at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Sunken Garden.

“Tonight, we need to mourn,” said First District Supervisor Das Williams, who represents Montecito.

“It’s breathtakingly horrible. Our community is going through something it has never gone through.”

Williams read the names and ages of those who died in the disaster, and then led a moment of silence in their memory.

Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said four people remained missing Sunday evening as crews continue to remove thick mud, boulders, uprooted trees and mangled vehicles from the heavily flooded areas.

Only weeks after the Thomas Fire raged across the mountains above Carpinteria, Summerland and Montecito, torrential rains early on Jan. 9 sent flash floods roaring out of the burn areas and into neighborhoods throughout Montecito.

At least 20 people have died in the flooding, which injured at least 28 more.

More than 2,000 people are assigned to the flood area and are still combing through mud, debris, buildings, collapsed homes and mangled vehicles for additional survivors or victims, according to incident management team officials.

The deadly mudslides also destroyed at least 65 single-family homes, with another 462 damaged.

Eight commercial properties were reported destroyed and 20 damaged, according to incident commanders.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m scared of Mother Nature right now,” Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo told the crowd at the vigil.

Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, who is serving his first term in Congress after three terms as the First District supervisor, acknowledged the widespread effects.

“While this disaster was focused in Montecito, Montecito is our community,” he said. “It’s a painful time. This is a stressful and devastating time for our community.”

Montecito residents have hope that their neighborhoods will recover despite the destruction, Williams said.

“They’re exhausted, but they find ways to try to live life as normally as they can,” he said. “It’s inspirational.”

On Sunday, community members, many clutching pets, huddled in the Sunken Garden. Some were teary-eyed as they held their candles amid the drifting aroma of incense.

Santa Barbara resident Molly Steen, who graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 1996 and lives in San Roque, said she didn’t personally know any of the victims or those who are still missing, but participated in the vigil to support her community.

“We have our candles and matches,” she said. “We see a few familiar faces. It’s valuable for all of us to come together. We are not directly affected, but came to process what has been happening in our community. It saddens us.”

Teena Grant, a chaplain at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, was among those in attendance.

“I don’t have any words, especially for the children,” the Goleta resident said.

Grant, who has been working with Cottage Health for 18 years, declined to disclose details of patients.

“People who work in the hospital and first-responders get affected,” she said, dabbing her tears. “We take care of each other. Everybody helps everybody.

“It’s lovely to be working with such a great team, but it’s difficult.”

The vigil was organized by community leaders.

“We all know someone who is experiencing a heartbreaking loss,” Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said. “We are all grieving.”

On Saturday evening, mourners gathered in Carpinteria for a similar candlelight vigil. The closure of Highway 101 through Montecito and mandatory evacuation orders for the community have split the South Coast in two.

Santa Barbara County opened a Family Assistance Center at First Presbyterian Church of Santa Barbara, 21 E. Constance Ave., for those who may have been affected by the storms. It will close Wednesday, Jan. 17, however.

Beginning on Wednesday, the county will open a new local recovery and assistance center to serve as a centralized location for resources and services to help community members recover and rebuild.

The center will be open from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday at Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara, 1 N. Calle Cesar Chavez. The center, which will be open through Feb. 3, will be closed on Sundays.

Services are also offered at Hospice of Santa Barbara, 2050 Alameda Padre Serra, Suite 100, in Santa Barbara.

Hospice of Santa Barbara is collaborating with local schools, first-responders, government agencies and the American Red Cross of Central California-Pacific Coast chapter to provide counseling. Click here for more information, or call 805.563.8820.

All community members are welcome.

“Everyone in our community is hurting,” District Attorney Joyce Dudley told attendees at the vigil. “Together we suffer, and together we can seek out opportunities to be kind to each other.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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