Storm hits Santa Barbara and Montecito hard, bringing mass rescues, damage and jitters

Two women cross a flooded street in pouring rain in Montecito
Rosa Gallardo, left, and Connie Duarte cross a flooded street in Montecito on Monday after getting off work at a hotel.
(Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

Greg Downs and his dog Snickers walked along the Montecito Creek on Tuesday morning, the sun straining to break through the clouds.

The creek gurgled steadily, but the flow was not as violent as it was Monday, when water spilled out onto Olive Mill Road. Downs, who lives nearby on higher ground, had wanted to see how the creek held up during the night.

His home was not damaged, but Monday’s storm made him nervous.

“It’s pretty much a blessing to be able to handle this amount of water,” he said.

By Tuesday afternoon, residents along the Central Coast — from Montecito and the rest of Santa Barbara County to Paso Robles — were told they could return to their homes after being ordered to flee Monday. There were few reports of widespread damage.

The powerful storm that knocked out power, toppled trees — including one that killed a toddler — and flooded homes along the coast in Santa Cruz continued its march through the region.

Jan. 13, 2023


The announcement came after a storm dumped unprecedented amounts of rain, forcing a mass evacuation of Montecito and surrounding communities Monday amid concerns about flooding and mudflows.

“The storm that we just experienced was a significant and powerful weather event, one in a series of storms that have and will continue to hit Santa Barbara County,” said Sheriff Bill Brown.

Evacuation orders remained in place Tuesday night farther north, along a stretch of the Salinas River and the Carmel Valley in Monterey County, officials said. Areas along the Big Sur River were downgraded to an evacuation warning.

Photos show Mammoth Mountain and Palisades Tahoe blanketed in snow from recent atmospheric river storms.

Jan. 11, 2023

Multiple people were rescued from vehicles submerged in floodwaters Monday, including in the Aliso area of Santa Ynez and on Highway 135, according to officials.

On Monday evening, a stormwater basin in northern Santa Barbara County failed, sending mud and water into a residential neighborhood. Several homes were evacuated in the community of Orcutt as the drainage basin and roadway were compromised.

“There’s water and mud damage to the homes adjacent to that area,” Scott Safechuck, public information officer with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, said Tuesday. “I don’t have the exact amount of homes that were affected, but we know there’s more damage out there.”

Emergency officials received more than 200 calls for service in Santa Barbara County on Monday.

The area saw record-breaking rainfall that raised Lake Cachuma by 21 feet in one day. Video of a person kayaking down a flooded street in east Santa Barbara has gone viral, but emergency officials recommend against such activities.

Officials said they are still determining the amount of damage caused by the storm.

“It takes time for infrastructure assessment and getting those roads assessed,” Safechuck said.

About 100 people sought refuge Monday night in evacuation centers in Carpinteria and Santa Barbara, both run by the American Red Cross. Most of those stranded were drivers who were left looking for shelter when the 101 Freeway was closed in both directions. In Carpinteria, about 25 people — and a dog named Chica — stayed at the Veteran’s Center blocks from the ocean.

Back-to-back storms across California have killed 17, including two motorists who died in a crash, and caused damage that could cost over $1 billion.

Jan. 10, 2023


“She’s well-behaved,” said Chastnie Cribbs, 47, of her papillon mix, who slept burrowed beneath her on an army-style cot in the shelter.

Cribbs was returning to San Pedro from Washington with her fiance, Eddie Sanchez, 57, when the two were detoured off the 101. All hotels were booked, so they decided to stay at the shelter.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the setup,” Cribbs said. “Still, it was an experience — an experience I want to be over.”

City Manager Dave Durflinger told The Times that Carpinteria avoided the worst of the flooding due to upgrades to infrastructure made after storm-induced floods and mudflows in 2018, as well as prep work by the city’s public works crew before this storm hit.

“They were out clearing drains and stayed out through the night keeping an eye on rising creeks,” Durflinger said.

The 2018 storm caused mudflows that killed 23 people and destroyed scores of homes. Monday’s evacuations came exactly five years later.

Durflinger noted that it was lucky that the peak of the storm didn’t coincide with a high tide, which could have made the flooding much worse.

Still, Carpinteria Creek “was at like 99% capacity yesterday,” he said.

Residents of a senior living facility nearby were moved to the top floor to keep them safe from possible flooding.

On Tuesday afternoon, the sun finally shining, Barbara Eliasen stood on the Montecito Creek Bridge watching water flow down from the hills.

Her home was not damaged during Monday’s storm, and she did not live in the area during the 2018 mudflows, which did little to deter her from buying property in a city that has experienced extreme storms and fires in recent years.

“They say that’s the price you pay for living in paradise,” Eliasen said, although she acknowledged that she hedged her bet by buying in a “safer area” of the city.

Still, the lure of the place is obvious.

“It’s gorgeous, and I love being here,” she said.