“There are bodies in the street!”
That’s what my neighbor told me as I was going on to survey the damage from the mudslides in Montecito, the dream destination where I moved to in August.
Montecito is the town just south of Santa Barbara. If you’ve been there, you will agree that it is one of the most visually stunning parts of America.
Nestled between the Santa Ynez mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Montecito is part of California’s central coast—about 90 minutes north of Los Angeles—just far enough to keep out the Hollywood rif raf.
On the other hand, it is also the home to lots of celebrity billionaires including Oprah Winfrey, Ty Warner, and Charlie Munger.
But the Montecito that I’ve grown to love is not flashy. It’s a small community where people are very open and get to know each other very quickly. The people I have gotten to know are smart, friendly and genuine.
It is an affluent community but, at the end of the day, it’s still a little beach town. It seems safe and cozy—the kind of place you want to raise your kids. That’s why we moved here.
However, the last couple months have been anything but cozy. We had to evacuate because of the largest wildfire in California history spread up to our mountains.
As a community, we got through that one okay. And just as we got back into our routines over the last week, we started hearing about storms and flood warnings.
We were told that we would have several inches of rain. The houses near the mountains were under mandatory evacuation.
We live on the beach and were told that we were under “voluntary” evacuation.
The flooding was related to the creaks up in the mountains not the ocean.
Still, being from Minnesota and having lived in Chicago, I couldn’t understand why a few inches of rain would mean much of anything.
Normally I’m pretty conservative with these things but this time, we decided to stay put and not evacuate.
The next morning, we looked out the window where there is normally sand. Instead, the beach was covered with wood and debris.
About 200 yards south of us, helicopters were circling around and we saw the top of a car submerged in the water.
I was thinking to myself—boy this was a big storm and we barely noticed it!
What happened overnight, however, was a much bigger deal than your typical storm
The fires up in the mountains had created a very unique and deadly confluence of hazards.
Layers of debris from the fires had loosely accumulated. Furthermore, all the trees in the areas had burned down.
So, when the rain hit, this enormous amount of debris and water—mud, slid quickly down the mountain with virtually nothing in its way to slow it down.
The mud took giant boulders with it that traveled at high speeds and pulverized everything in their path including homes. The mud and boulders traveled several miles all the way to the beach. Highway 101 was three feet deep in muddy waters.
As of today, 15 people are confirmed dead and several people are still missing. Homes have literally disappeared.
This is a small town. I never thought something like this could happen here. Is that what you think when you think of your own town?
There are lessons to be learned from this and reminders to take to heart.
First, life is fragile. We have heard that there are still missing children in Montecito. I can’t even fathom that.
Understand that every day is precious. Love as much as you can. Enjoy life as much as you can.
Next, understand that behind manicured lawns, high paid jobs and social safety nets there is always uncertainly in life.
We do our best to try to hide this fact. We create “safe and cozy” lives for ourselves and, in the process, convince ourselves that we are not susceptible to the perils we see on television. It doesn’t seem like any of that stuff could happen to us, right?
It’s not necessarily a bad thing to think that way to a certain extent—after all, who wants to live in fear all of the time?
On the other hand, it’s still good to keep in mind that the world most of us live in appears artificially safe to us. In reality, most of us simply have not been exposed to the world without its lipstick on—a world that can be quite ugly and ruthless.
It is important to remember that there is no such thing as absolute security in life—whether that means being a victim of nature or losing your stable job and paycheck.
Be proactive and always guard against your blindside.
P.S. Watch this video to see our escape from Montectio (06:02) —thank God for my Range Rover that took me through three feet of mud to get to this street.