Properties damaged, but no injuries or fatalities reported; amount of water at Lake Cachuma doubles
Monday’s fierce storm left property damage throughout Santa Barbara County, but no fatalities or injuries were reported.
All evacuations and shelter-in-place orders were lifted by 2 p.m. Tuesday. And throughout the county, schools are reopening today.
State Route 154, which was impacted by rock slides, remained closed Tuesday in both directions. But by the end of Tuesday afternoon, Highway 101 was reopened in both directions in South County and between Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
And all that rain doubled the amount of water at Lake Cachuma, a key reservoir.
Officials said they were prepared for this storm.
“We were well aware the storm was on the way due to the professional work done by the National Weather Service at Oxnard,” Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse said during a news conference Tuesday at the Santa Barbara County government campus by Calle Real. “We have gone from a public safety stance of search and rescue to a recovery and clean-up mode. We would encourage all of our residents to heed directions from our public safety officials.”
Eric Boldt, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Oxnard, described the storm’s impacts as “widespread and damaging.”
“There are all kinds of flood-related issues including: small streams and tributaries and even main stem flooding from the Santa Ynez River. Mud and debris flow closed roads, and stranded people, resulting in numerous rescues,” Mr. Boldt told the News-Press Tuesday. “However, there were no fatalities or injuries, and a lot of water helped to fill reservoirs.
“Lake Cachuma rose 32 feet in the last day and a half, starting at around 37% capacity and is now up to 73% percent capacity,” Mr. Boldt said.
There was more rain than the National Weather Service predicted.
“The original prediction was saying 4-8 inches in the high country, which was pushed to 12 inches. There was wave after wave of moisture and rain,” Mr. Boldt said.
“In the end, we saw over 17 inches at San Marcos Pass,” he said. “One gauge in the western Ventura mountains hit over 18 inches. Most places exceed predictions, especially in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.”
On Monday evening, President Joe Biden approved an amendment to California’s federal disaster declaration to include Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, according to Rep. Salud Carbajal’s office. Rep. Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, and U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-California, wrote to President Biden, asking for the amendment.
“I am grateful to President Biden, FEMA, state officials, and our local leaders and emergency managers for working quickly to ensure Central Coast first responders can get the resources they need to respond to the damage brought by this week’s storms,” said Rep. Carbajal. “I will continue to utilize every resource at my office’s disposal to help support those who have been working day and night to save lives and protect our communities as we survey the damage and brace for the rain and flooding still to come.”
On Monday, FEMA issued a news release: “The president’s action authorizes FEMA to coordinate all disaster relief efforts to alleviate the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population and to provide appropriate assistance to save lives; protect property, public health and safety; and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe … Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency. Emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance under the public assistance program, will be provided at 75% federal funding.”
During Tuesday’s news conference with local officials, News-Press Managing Editor Dave Mason asked what the expansion of the federal declaration means for Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
“So there’s two processes associated with the federal declaration. We are waiting for that official notice in writing,” said Kelly Hubbard, director of the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management. “There’s a process associated with the government entities and in the county, in our collection of damage and cost, so that we can work with them on reimbursement, recovery, and restoration of any damages to our critical infrastructure and facilities and those response costs.
“The other part of that is individual assistance. So the reason why I point out that we are waiting for that letter is that it typically identifies all of the different programs that may be available, and we’ll have that at the local assistance center,” she said.
Ms. Hubbard explained that will help to identify whether Small Business Administration assistance is available, as well as identifying resources for the agricultural community and individuals who need help from FEMA.
“The federal assistance for residents does tend to be concepts like low-income loans in which case we will be working with our local community-based organizations and nonprofit partners to identify what disaster resources might be available to support our community members,” she said.
Assistance could come in the form of replacement of clothes.
“It doesn’t replace insurance or those kinds of concepts, but it’s some resources to help them get reset on their feet,” Ms. Hubbard said.
Officials also responded to the News-Press’ inquiry concerning the extent of the damage.
“There’s some major infrastructure damage to a lot of roads,” said Anthony Stornetta, incident commander of All Hazard Incident Management Team 3 at the news conference. “There’s a lot of access problems.”
“Homewise, I know in the Guadalupe area, there’s a lot of homes damaged out there from a break out there with a lot of water. I know in the Orcutt area by Union Valley, there’s some severe damage on the roadway and (damage on) probably about 30 to 40 homes and everything down south here, so it’s quite extensive.”
Mark Hartwig, the chief of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, said fire and rescue crews went through pre-approval for pre-positioning before the storm struck.
“We dig deep into budgets, and the state has a fund for pre-positioning. And usually the state meets us in the middle for overtime and extra staffing,” Chief Hartwig told the News-Press. “We were prepared and ready. We were very, very prepared for this.
“Some of my best intel yesterday and this morning was from social media,” he said Tuesday. “Some of the damage we saw in low lying areas was from cell phone cameras. Other than overwater flooding, we are looking at infrastructure, stability and integrity of roadways and bridges.
“We are working with Caltrans and CHP,” Chief Hartwig said.
The News-Press also spoke with Christina Favuzzi, the public information officer for the Montecito Fire Department, about its preparations.
“We called our personnel back, and many partners across Santa Barbara County did the same and increased staffing,” she said, explaining that meant there were “plenty of first responders available across the county.
“There was 2-14 inches of rain across the Thomas Fire Burn area in the last 48 hours, in addition to the 12-20 inches of rain in the last 30 days,” Ms. Favuzzi said. “Debris basins did their job. We did not see major impacts in 2018, not seeing large boulders causing severe damage to homes. We are so thankful for all the good work Santa Barbara County Flood Control has done in the last five years to improve those systems.
“The National Weather Service was accurate,” she said. “That helped us make the decision to evacuate. In addition to the current forecast, we look at the history of debris flows in Montecito.
“We are actively looking at getting people home, but we have to assess the South Coast. There are lots of roadway impacts and downed trees. There is no timeline right now on repopulation.”