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Making the Nooz, Week Ending Jan. 20, 2018: Montecito Flooding Stirs Up Reader Questions

We have some answers for your FAQs, but thank you for your news tips, photographs and comments

We want to publish these Making the Nooz columns every week, but last week just got away from us.

It’s been a hard two weeks — nearly two months, really — for the South Coast, and recovery and healing will take a long time.

We received so many photographs, emails, comments, questions, encouragements, news tips, thoughtful perspective, stories and other feedback from Noozhawk readers this past week, and they all made our coverage more comprehensive.

Above is a gallery of some of the reader photos we received of the Montecito floods, mud and aftermath. Thank you for sharing them.

Noozhawk Asks

We fielded scores of questions this past week, with some submitted through Noozhawk Asks and others sent by email or Facebook comment.

Hopefully, most of those have been answered in our news coverage, but some of the frequently asked questions are featured below with links for more information:

» When will Highway 101 reopen, and is there a way around it?

Caltrans hopes to reopen the closed Montecito-area section on Monday, and there are no driving detours through or around the disaster area/mandatory evacuation zone.

Google Maps and other mapping apps are still struggling with this information, but the only way around is way, way around, using Highway 166 in Santa Maria or Highway 46 in Paso Robles to get to I-5. Other options are the ferry boats (weather-permitting), Amtrak passenger trains or a plane.

» What specific properties were destroyed or damaged in Montecito?

The devastation is extensive and Santa Barbara County’s damage assessment map and Incident Command operational map mark specific properties, though there is some inconsistency. The number of destroyed and damaged buildings (even the total number of buildings) changes day to day in Incident Command fact sheets, as information is still being vetted.

» When will utilities be restored?

Santa Barbara County said Thursday that it hopes utilities will be restored to all undamaged areas soon, while there is much more work to do in the devastated core of Montecito itself.

» How can I help?

The United Ways of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties expanded their Thomas Fire fundraiser to include the flood disaster. Click here to make an online donation to the United Way Thomas Fire and Flood Fund.

There are lots of ways to donate money or needed goods, volunteer your time, and contribute directly to families who have suffered huge losses.

Disaster relief resources are also available, for homeowners, renters and businesses. Click here for more information about flood insurance and how to know whether your property is at risk.

» When can people go home?

Some streets and lots are unrecognizable, with huge debris and boulder fields where homes used to be. Authorities don’t yet have a timeline on “repopulating” the mandatory evacuation zone, where crews are working to clear debris basins and creek channels, restore roads and utilities, and clean up debris.

Sheriff Bill Brown, when announcing the expanded mandatory evacuation on Jan. 11, said it could take a week, or two. He has also said that officials are considering a number of factors before letting people back in, including road access and utility outages.

» How did the Montecito Water District’s storage reservoir failures contribute to the storm impact?

We don’t yet know. All the storage reservoirs drained their contents, an estimated 8 million to 9 million gallons of water, when the main transmission pipelines were broken by mudslides. The Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system and shut-off valves didn’t work because it didn’t have power and back-up generators weren’t turned on, and were inaccessible during the storm, according to general manager Nick Turner.

It is not known how quickly the reservoirs emptied, or when, but most of the water went into the creek channels.

The Montecito Water District is named in a lawsuit for damages, along with Southern California Edison, which is accused of starting the Thomas Fire on Dec. 4 near Santa Paula.

» Why didn’t Santa Barbara County issue mandatory evacuations for the flood plain areas below East Valley Road/Highway 192?

Santa Barbara County released a flood hazard map as part of a Jan. 5 news conference, two days before the evacuations were issued, showing higher risk in areas farther downstream, closer to the ocean. Those areas were not included in the evacuation orders.

The county has never issued evacuations for a storm before, officials said, and both Brown and emergency management director Rob Lewin told Noozhawk they believe officials did what they could to notify people of the risk. Most people in the mandatory evacuation zone chose not to leave before the storm hit.

The county doesn’t have flood-specific evacuation zones; they were created for wildfires, designed around roads and fuel, not creeks.

Officials have said they will be re-evaluating evacuation zones for debris flows.

It is an ongoing question whether officials did enough to assess hazards ahead of the storm and warn residents, how they can better inform citizens of future threats, and get higher compliance with evacuation orders.

Reader Email

Several readers emailed us tips and submitted Noozhawk Asks questions about where dump trucks were offloading mud and other debris cleared from Highway 101 and other Montecito areas.

They tipped us off specifically about trucks offloading at Carpinteria State Beach and a lot on Via Chaparral off Cathedral Oaks Road just west of Highway 154.

After inquiries to Caltrans, the county Public Works Department and other agencies, the county confirmed dumping at local beaches. Other known mud and debris dump sites include southbound Highway 101 in Goleta, near Fairview Avenue, and a contractor yard in Buellton.

Extra thanks to reader Martha Hassenplug, who sent photos along with her tip.

Readers also prompted us to keep checking on the status of Casa Dorinda, where hundreds of residents and staff were sheltering in place at the 300 Hot Springs Road campus, near some of the worst destruction.

Casa Dorinda had no utilities or phones, and was evacuated two days later, on Jan. 11.

Facebook Comments

Santa Barbara County residents are extremely frustrated about the Highway 101 closure and not big fans of the detour options to get to Ventura County and south: driving the long way around, taking a boat, taking Amtrak, or flying.

Caltrans expects to reopen Highway 101 on Monday, which is also when Santa Barbara City College will start its delayed semester.

A few people suggested that Caltrans just go ahead and add third lanes to Highway 101 while the roadway is closed, to finish the long-stalled widening project once and for all.

Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol are recommending that people take Highway 46 by Paso Robles to connect to I-5, instead of Highway 166 near Santa Maria.

Highway 166 is a narrow roadway with few passing lanes and a history of crashes, including head-on collisions, North County Editor Janene Scully reportedf from her ridealong with the CHP on Monday — during which a semi truck crashed, blocking the lanes.

Reader Maria Jimenez wrote on Facebook of Highway 166, “I drove it twice this weekend. I only saw one Highway Patrol officer. People were stupid in the way they were driving. Passing cars and trucks on blind turns. We were driving 65 cruising along behind a SB Airbus and this car flew by passing 6 cars and the Airbus at the same time. I was freaking out this idiot was going to kill us. It’s awful.”

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli 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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