Montecito resident Dominic Shiach thought the worst was over when the massive Thomas fire finally stopped threatening his town last month.
But last night and early Tuesday morning, the rains began to pound. Within hours, the community was inundated with mudslides, leaving at least five dead and some trapped among damaged homes.
Officials described intense deluges of rain overnight that began moving the fire-scarred earth without warning, causing terrifying moments for residents who could not get out in time.
“I woke up ready this morning to laugh and scoff at all the gloom and doom predictions,” said Shiach, 50. “It’s actually way worse than I thought it was going to be.”
Shiach wore a navy raincoat as he walked Archie, his 3-year-old West Highland terrier, down Sycamore Canyon Road on Tuesday morning.
For now, Shiach has remained in the neighborhood. He and his family evacuated for 10 days because of the Thomas fire.
“It’s a complete surprise,” Shiach said about the threat of more devastation from flooding. “We’ve got food, and I’m sure the roads will be open in a day or so.”
Hours before the heaviest deluge hit the area, officials had evacuated foothill communities filled with 7,000 residents, said Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Kelly Hoover.
But not everyone heeded that call.
About 3 a.m., the storm became ferocious.
“We just had a deluge, a power surge of rain. And we had a report of a structure fire burning in the Montecito area, the San Ysidro area. And it just kept going downhill from there,” Hoover said Tuesday morning. “We have people stuck in their homes, stuck in their cars. There’s downed power lines, flooded roadways, debris.”
By daybreak, 30 miles of the 101 Freeway were closed because of mud flows.
“There’s no way to get from Ventura here, no way for us to get south,” Hoover said. “We’re encouraging people to stay off the roads if they’re in an evacuation area.”
Hoover said dispatchers were being flooded with calls for help.
By 8:30 a.m., 50 calls were pending, she said.
Authorities have tapped rescue helicopters with hoist-capabilities from the U.S. Coast Guard to help carry people out. Rescuers are working to save people from their homes and cars, she said.