Thursday, April 19 , 2018, 4:39 pm | Fair 70º

 
 
 
 

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Search & Rescue Resources From All Over California Respond to Evacuate Montecito-Area Residents

Helicopters from the U.S. Coast Guard, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties operate out of a helibase at the Santa Barbara Airport to help rescue Montecito-area residents Tuesday. Click to view larger
Helicopters from the U.S. Coast Guard, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties operate out of a helibase at the Santa Barbara Airport to help rescue Montecito-area residents Tuesday.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Search and rescue crews used an inflatable boat to rescue Montecito resident Pat Sweem from her home Tuesday morning as flash flooding and thick mud swept into her neighborhood.

Three rescue personnel lifted Sweem’s 12-1/2-year-old retriever, Pride, and saved her two other dogs from being trapped by rushing water, boulders and debris flow, she said.

“The cars are floating around in the front yard somewhere,” Sweem said when asked about the damage to her Santa Clara Way home.

“The mud comes halfway up the bird bath. I have a little bit of dog food, my medicine, my purse and the clothes on my back.”

A military vehicle gave her a ride to the Vons grocery store on Coast Village Road, and then she caught a bus to the American Red Cross evacuation center at Santa Barbara City College.

“Walking in the mud is not easy,” Sweem said. “I’m grateful for all of the people who performed the search and rescue. The water was still rising.”

The Kansas City, Missouri native is undergoing her second evacuation in less than a month.

A dog named Franky waits out the massive flooding event on Tuesday at the Santa Barbara City College evacuation shelter. Click to view larger
A dog named Franky waits out the massive flooding event on Tuesday at the Santa Barbara City College evacuation shelter.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

She headed to Morro Bay in December when the Thomas Fire burned through southern Santa Barbara County, and her single-story suffered ash and smoke damage from the blaze.

“This is my first experience with wildfire and a flood,” said Sweem, who has lived in Montecito for three years.

Firefighters, law enforcement personnel and search and rescue teams from all over the state responded to the storm-ravaged Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria areas Tuesday, authorities said.

At least 13 fatalities were confirmed as of Tuesday night and rescue teams continued to search for survivors. 

More than 50 hoist rescues were conducted throughout the day and dozens more of on-the-ground rescues, with people evacuated by vehicle and helicopter from difficult-to-access areas, authorities said. 

The evacuation center at SBCC had plenty of capacity and had moved to the gymnasium since evacuees were showing up "literally covered in mud," said Kimberly Coley of the Red Cross. 

“Activity was quiet overnight, but as people are evacuating and pulled out by rescue crews, we anticipate more folks coming in,” said Red Cross spokeswoman Jessica Piffero said. “We are ready and waiting to provide relief. We don't know how many people to expect, be we are prepared for the worst-case scenario. We are prepared to house thousands, if needed.”

Joy rests at the Santa Barbara City College evacuation shelter Tuesday. Click to view larger
Joy rests at the Santa Barbara City College evacuation shelter Tuesday.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Dog and cat owners can bring their animals to the assistance site, Piffero added.

“We are going to find a way to take care of your pets. Don’t let that be the thing that stops you from evacuating. Evacuate with your pets.”

Nora Sims took them up on it. 

While Sweem's daughter is traveling in Egypt, Sims is house-watching the Hot Spring Lane residence, just off Hot Springs Road in Montecito. 

Sims was covered head-to-toe in mud Tuesday and walked her yellow Laborador retriever, Joy, outside the shelter. 

The New York resident’s dark blue pants cropped at mid-calf were clean, but mud spatters lined her jacket and sandals. 

“I got these pants from over there,” Sims said, pointing to a bin of clothing donations supplied by the Red Cross.

She recalled waking up to the sound of strong rains at 5 a.m. Tuesday. 

“There were loud noises,” she said. “I thought I was OK, but this is beyond horrible.”

For now, Sims plans to remain at the emergency shelter, where she arrived around 11 a.m. Tuesday. 

“We don’t know how long we are going to be here,” Sims said.

Rescuers working Tuesday included air units and ground-to-air hoist evacuation operations, and a temporary helibase was set up at the Santa Barbara Airport Tuesday. 

“There’s a lot happening — we are flying out and picking up the patients on their rooftop — where crews can’t get vehicle access or rescue equipment,” said JD Domingues, U.S. Forest Service helibase manager. “We are transporting them via helicopter to Signature Flight Support. We are still utilizing aircraft.”

The U.S. Coast Guard and authorities from Santa Barbara and Ventura counties were using six helicopters Tuesday and American Medical Response paramedics were helping treat victims and transport patients to hospitals, if needed, he said. 

“We’ve had 10-plus patients, and their pets — we have had three dogs,” Domingues said Tuesday afternoon. “They were walking, and just covered in mud. This is a day or two operation. Hopefully, crews can gain ground access.” 

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.

The Red Cross-run evacuation shelter at Santa Barbara City College welcomes pets, organizers said. Click to view larger
The Red Cross-run evacuation shelter at Santa Barbara City College welcomes pets, organizers said.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)
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