Friday, January 12, 2018

When Disaster Fatigue Is the New Normal

Melinda Palacio
Over in Montecito the Casa de Maria Retreat Center filled with mud

            On Tuesday, what was supposed to be an easy trip from New Orleans to Santa Barbara turned into an obstacle course. Things didn't bode well when a thick layer of fog forced the first leg of the trip to almost be diverted to Austin. The fog cleared enough for the plane to continue onto Dallas and land. We made our connection and arrived in Burbank, California to an unusual spell of flash rains, which caused tragic mudslides that swallowed entire neighborhoods and turned the 101 into a river of mud. Amtrak was no longer a possible route to Santa Barbara, so we rented a car. Since the 101 was closed, Google advised taking the back roads; only the fabled back roads were all blocked once we reached Ojai, where we spent the night.
Aerial view of the entire retreat center of La Casa de Maria in Montecito
(most of the neighborhoods in Montecito are buried under mud)
            A second take on operation Santa Barbara or Bust took us South through Santa Paula, past Magic Mountain, up through the grapevine on the 5 and over to 166 and 33 to Santa Maria and the northern end of 101, which was not blocked, but required a six-hour detour. We could have made it to San Francisco in the amount of time it took to drive from Burbank to Santa Barbara using the one available circuitous route.
            During the long drive, I kept checking on the status of the mudslides and things kept getting worse. As if the worst fire in California's history and a recent earthquake wasn't enough to quell the gods, Santa Barbara county had to experience epic mudslides in Montecito, leaving many trapped by flash mud floods in both Montecito and Romero Canyon. My friend who lives in Carpinteria said her town was completely cut off from the world. As of yesterday, Amtrak resumed service to Carpinteria, no longer leaving the city an island. 
          When we finally arrived in Santa Barbara, we found our home and neighborhood intact, such a stark contrast to the nightmare of the mudslides of Montecito and beyond.

Santa Barbara side of the 101
            While there were heartwarming stories, such as a two-year old baby being found alive under four feet of mud, there were the heart wrenching stories, such as the fact that no one has claimed this baby and her parents have probably perished in the mud. The number of missing people and the death toll continues to rise and helicopters continue to make round-the-clock-rescues.
            And then there is the greater disaster that all of us have been experiencing since 45 took office, causing the more fatigue and distractions. Yet, we must persist and help each other since the President of the United States will not help Puerto Rico or California. Prayers and condolences to the families and friends of the 19 plus people who have died in the mudslides. The current list  of names and their ages includes: Jonathan Benitez (10), Kailly Benitez (3), Martin Cabrera-Munoz (48), David Cantin (49), Sawyer Corey (12), Peter Fleurat (73), Josephine Gower (69), John McManigal (61), Alice Mitchell (78), James Mitchell (89), Mark Montgomery (54), Caroline Montgomery (22), Marilyn Ramos (27), Rebecca Riskin (61), Roy Rohter (84) Peerawat Sutthithepn (6), Richard Taylor (67).

            Prayers to all, especially those who remain missing. Let's hope they are safe and awaiting rescue. Anyone in need of assistance or information can call 805-681-5542 or text 805 699-0165,

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