Californians Contend With a Devastating Mudslide in Montecito

Mudslide in Montecito

In Santa Barbara County, hillsides in the Montecito area deforested by the recent fire became the scene of another tragedy yesterday. A sudden heavy downpour on January 9, 2018 created dangerous flows of loose soil and mud. A massive mudslide dislodged part of the remaining vegetation in its path and grew so strong it actually carried some homes completely off their foundations.

Tragic Losses

Early today, a Santa Barbara County spokeswoman reported 15 confirmed deaths and at least 25 cases of injuries requiring medical attention. The Montecito area appears to have suffered the most serious damage. Emergency personnel rescued at least 50 residents stranded in the mudslide. Los Angeles County had dispatched a trained search and rescue unit to assist in locating survivors. Law enforcement personnel, the Coast Guard and the National Guard have also begun participating in this effort.

Sheriff Bill Brown from Santa Barbara indicated authorities will conduct a search of damaged houses and buildings dislodged by the mud flow in an effort to reach possible victims. He indicated some locations still remain inaccessible as a result of the disruption. Reportedly, mud flows severely damaged or destroyed several dozen residences. He cautioned everyone that the casualty figures may rise.


Montecito adjoins Highway 101 and sits along the coast in Santa Barbara County close to Summerland, a number of miles northwest of Los Angeles and Oxnard. The community of nearly 9,000 includes several celebrity homeowners from the entertainment and film industries, including Rob Lowe, Oprah Winfrey, and Ellen DeGeneres. Oprah Winfrey posted some pictures of the mud slide on Instagram and wrote she was praying for the community.

Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital reported four of the 20 mud slide patients in its care remained in "severely critical" condition. Rescuers celebrated the recovery of a 14-year old on Tuesday. The teen had been trapped in her badly damaged home for several hours after it collapsed. As emergency workers prepared to transport her to a hospital, she murmured she had doubted whether or not she would survive.

A Devastating Disaster

Three factors likely contributed to the devastation. First, recent fires left the Montecito area highly susceptible to mud slides by creating widespread deforestation. Second, the mudslide occurred at night, while most residents slept. Third, apparently only a small percentage of people (an estimated 10% to 15%) in mandatory mudslide evacuation areas complied with order.