Image Source: PBS
This weekend, roughly 25 million people in California are under a flood warning as the latest in a spate of deadly storms drenches the state.
Several waterways have flooded, at least 19 people have died, and thousands more inhabitants have been advised to escape.
Locals in Montecito, 84 miles (135 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles, say the rain exacerbates their pain.
A mudslide killed 23 people in 2018, and many locals fear it will happen again.
Rita Bourbon attributes her life to Italian stone masons. Her house was built by a craftsman more than a century ago, and she describes it as a fortress.
She survived the storm five years ago, crying inside with her daughter and many friends as boulders and other houses ripped from their foundations crashed onto her.
The following day, the area along the coast from Los Angeles was destroyed, and over two dozen people were killed, including her neighbor, whom she discovered in the mud in her garden.
This week, Montecito Creek became furious and raging, prompting fire officials to issue a “Leave Now!” warning to the whole community, which includes some of California’s most famous residents, including Oprah Winfrey, Prince Harry, and Meghan Markle.
Although the evacuation order in Montecito has been removed, locals are still on edge. And, with so much of the soil already saturated, flooding and landslides are a distinct possibility.
Abe Powell is one of the co-founders of the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade, which was formed in 2018 to recruit volunteers to help clean up after the devastating mudslide.
Powell led volunteers across town last week as they filled sandbags and dug trenches. Then, he took us up a steep mountain path where huge stones and muck made entry to some residences difficult.
Steve McGlothen, a film producer, is among the volunteers. He has lived in the area for 50 years and in his cliff-top home for 27.
He added that assisting others takes his mind off the problems on his farm and the anguish he feels as the rain continues to fall. Plastic sheets cover the slope, which slipped away for the first time this week to prevent the latest deluge from aggravating the slide.
California Governor Gavin Newsom joined volunteers in Santa Barbara stacking sandbags. He claims the place will be a “hot point” for him in the following days.
Californians are accustomed to extreme weather, including wildfires, drought, and earthquake anxiety, with many anticipating the “Big One” foretold by many experts. But, instead, the “storm parade” hammering California is unparalleled.
At least 19 people have died due to the storms, which began in late December. In addition, a five-year-old boy is still missing after being stolen from his mother’s arms in fast-moving flood water while walking to school in central California.
Vineyards in Northern California have been inundated. Capitola’s historic wharf has been wrecked, and the beach town has been decimated. Furthermore, the river is rushing in the renowned Salinas Valley, endangering California’s historic agricultural heartland.
US President Joe Biden has now dispatched government help to Sacramento, Merced, and Santa Cruz counties.
According to Kimberley Rain Miner, a Nasa climate scientist, the difficulty with having so many large storms close together is that the earth is already saturated and can’t absorb the water pouring so quickly.
Everyone in California is monitoring their phones, waiting to hear if they should evacuate and wondering where they can go if they need to leave town.
Why is Montecito at such great risk of mudslides?
The wealthy hamlet of Montecito, California, was ordered to evacuate on Monday due to mudslides.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, and other celebrities live in the coastal town.
Another storm hit the community five years ago yesterday, triggering huge mudslides, killing 23 people, and destroying over 100 homes.
So far, 16 people have died due to the storm currently engulfing southern California.
The US National Weather Service reported that up to 14in (35.5cm) of rain fell in Santa Barbara, the region where Montecito is located, in the previous 24 hours.
Experts say Montecito’s location between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains contributes to the affluent town’s vulnerability to natural calamities such as floods and mudslides.
Larry Gurrola, an engineering geologist specializing in the Santa Barbara area, spoke with the BBC.
According to him, the place is dangerous because of the steep topography of the mountains to the east and the two types of rock that comprise the mountain.
The Santa Ynez Mountains rise 4,864 feet (1482 meters) above sea level and are composed of erodible shale and sandstone.
According to Mr. Gurrola, a “rapid increase in height causes greater precipitation at a higher elevation.” And all of that rain falls on the town.
Weather is another factor that might create mudslides. California has been suffering from a drought for several years, leaving the landscape barren and arid.
Similarly, when wildfires burn across the area, they can kill vegetation that ordinarily allows for some absorption of heavy rain.
According to Mr. Gurrola, post-fire conditions can significantly increase “runoff velocity,” which is the rate at which debris and rainwater stream down a mountain’s slope.
Debris may flow 50 times faster after a fire than before.