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Your Questions About The California Mudslides, Answered

January 12
19:44 2018

With the largest wildfire in state history still in residents’ rearview mirrors, this double whammy is about as bad as it gets. Last month’s Thomas fire, which authorities are still working to fully contain, has burned 281,000 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. 

When a forecast of heavy rain in the region emerged Sunday, meteorologists warned that mudslides could develop and become treacherous. 

Why weren’t people more prepared?

The exact timing of mudslides is hard to predict, and they’re nearly impossible to mitigate, according to the USGS. That poses a dilemma for the residents who must decide whether to respond to warnings and to the officials who would send the warnings out.

Many people in the mudslides’ path had just returned home after being forced to evacuate during the fires. Worried residents facing “disaster fatigue” might not take the emergency alerts seriously, and officials chose not to send out emergency alerts to cellphones until after the flooding had begun.

There “isn’t an exact science” for predicting the scope of a disaster, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said. 

Many residents probably couldn’t grasp the scope of how dangerous mudslides can become, McNary told PBS NewsHour. 

“You can be in a place that looks perfectly safe, that looks kind of flat,” she said. “You cannot imagine what it’s like to be at the bottom of a funnel of literally acre-feet of watery mud, and it comes very, very fast. I was in a mud flow yesterday, and it went from a wash channel being 6 inches of water to being 10 feet of water full of boulders.”

Even just a small misstep can be fatal. When Josie Gower, 69, opened the front door of her Montecito home, she was fatally swept downhill for miles. 

“I told her to stay on the second floor, but she went downstairs and opened the door and just got swept away,” her son, Hayden Gower, told KSBY.  

How does this mudslide stack up to others?

These Southern California mudslides will likely go down as some of the worst in recent state history.

By comparison, the 2005 mudslide in La Conchita, California, killed 10 people and destroyed 13 houses, while a 1995 one in the same city destroyed nine homes but caused no fatalities.

The 2014 mudslides in Oso, Washington, about 60 miles north of Seattle, are regarded as among the worst in U.S. history. The disaster claimed more than 40 lives and dozens of homes and cut off a main roadway in the area for months. 

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

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