Volunteer Scott Perez went under a home to clear mud and debris left behind by the flooding in Montecito.
On Wednesday, 14 volunteers from Habitat for Humanity gathered at All Saints by-thesea Episcopal Church in Montecito to help clear mud that had gathered around several nearby cottages. The volunteers shoveled the morass around the structures’ foundations into piles, later to be cleared with a tractor.
The crew consisted of community members and volunteers sent by Wells Fargo, Deckers Brand, and Caruso Cares.
Taylor Payne, a customer service worker for Deckers Outdoor Services, had never worked for Habitat before and decided to volunteer when her workplace circulated the opportunity.
“[Deckers] is always really involved with volunteer opportunities in the community,” she told the News-Press. “Since the mudslide is one of the biggest events in recent local history, of course we’re going to volunteer.”
The cottages worked on are owned by the Nam Family Trust and stand right next to the Montecito Creek, which overflowed the morning of the mudslides.
Elliott Chang, a retiree who resides in one of the cottages, told the News-Press that he and his neighbors expected the flood and prepared accordingly.
“A majority of people slept in their clothes. I was in my clothes, except my boots,” Mr. Chang said.
He finally heard the “boom” of the mudflow as it crashed down the creek, which he said moved with incredible speed.
“We didn’t need Elvis Presley to rock n’ roll,” he quipped. “The whole street was… we were rockin’ here,” Mr. Chang said.
As the mud and debris flowed down the creek, Mr. Chang barricaded his front door to prevent it from being blown open. He then walked to a window, turned on his headlamp, and looked toward the creek. The surge was already subsiding and moving on, leaving 2 to 3 feet of mud around his house. Mr. Chang spent the next several days digging around his house.
Although his cottage has been green tagged, deeming it habitable, two of the cottages nearby have been red tagged, which means they are structurally compromised.
Luckily for Mr. Chang, on Tuesday he came across Habitat for Humanity working at another property and inquired whether his home was on their list to assist. When program director Rose Levy verified that his house wasn’t on the list, she encouraged him to meet her crew at their All Saints set-up location and make arrangements for assistance. Mr. Chang expressed his gratitude to Habitat for doing “an unbelievable amount of work,”
As the 14-person team dug, every once in a while they came across items carried by the mudflow. Among the artifacts recovered were a slide-area warning sign, a fine china set, photo albums, a diary, and a birthday postcard.
“We have a good stash each day,” program director Rose Levy said about the salvaged items.
Anything material uncovered, Ms. Levy said, goes directly to the sheriff’s office.
Referring to photos found among the mud, she said, “Obviously they’re a lot damaged, but we give it to the sheriff to catalogue because it could be somebody’s last memento.”
Habitat for Humanity will continue sending hand crews to clear mud from houses throughout the week and will have large-scale cleanups this weekend, serving about 50 residents.
Ms. Levy told the News-Press that Habitat’s cleanup efforts fit right in with its mission.
“The financial burden of what’s happened is huge,” she stated. “We want to be there for these people in their time of need.”
Habitat’s cleanups begin at 8:30 a.m. and finish at 2:30 p.m. and will convene at
Montecito Covenant Church on Saturday. On Sunday, they will convene at Montecito Family YMCA at the same time.
Those who wish to volunteer must come wearing long sleeve shirts, long pants, sturdy boots, and are encouraged to bring a shovel and gloves. Habitat for Humanity will provide protective gear donated by The Red Cross and Direct Relief.
By Josh Grega