Conflicting California Mudslide Warnings Were Issued, Report Shows

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In the days before mudslides devastated California neighborhoods, officials released conflicting evacuation orders that left some hard-hit neighborhoods out of the warning zone, a newspaper reported.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office had posted on its website and on Facebook a list of voluntary and mandatory evacuation areas for the coastal town of Montecito, the Los Angeles Times reported.

A separate map on the county’s website showed a larger voluntary evacuation zone that included homes not covered by the sheriff’s list.

Of the 21 people killed in the mudslide, at least a dozen lived in areas that were covered by the county’s evacuation map but not included in the Sheriff’s Office warnings, according to records reviewed by the newspaper.

In this photo provided by Santa Barbara County Fire Department, U.S. Highway 101 at the Olive Mill Road overpass is flooded with runoff water from Montecito Creek in Montecito, Calif. on Jan. 9, 2018. Dozens of homes were swept away or heavily damaged as downpours sent mud and boulders roaring down hills stripped of vegetation by a gigantic wildfire that raged in Southern California last month. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

County officials acknowledged the discrepancy while emphasizing the many other measures taken to warn residents of the approaching storm _ including emails, social media alerts, press releases and deputies going door to door in some areas.

“Regrettably, however, also 30 hours prior to the storms arrival, I approved a press release and Facebook that had discrepancies with the western boundary of our intended voluntary evacuation area,” Robert Lewin, San Barbara County’s director of the Office of Emergency Management, said in a statement.

Officials emphasized that all those who died were in a voluntary or mandatory evacuation zone and that the warnings probably saved more lives.

Questions remain about whether a broader evacuation warning would have made a difference. Officials estimated that only 15 percent of the residents in the mandatory evacuation zone left the area.

Authorities lifted some evacuation orders and advisories on the western edge of Montecito starting at midday Tuesday. Utilities may still be out and a “boil water” notice remains in effect, officials said.

Large swaths of the hillside enclave remain evacuated as crews continue to remove mud and boulders and rebuild drainage pipes and power lines. Officials said over the weekend that it would be a gradual process getting residents back into homes.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared Monday a “Day of Remembrance of the Montecito Mudslides” and ordered flags flown at half-staff over the state Capitol.

A 17-year-old boy and 2-year-old girl remain missing.

Meanwhile, the state senator representing Montecito introduced legislation Tuesday that seeks to ensure that insurance companies cover damages from the mudslide.

Democratic Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson said some insurers are being noncommittal about whether they’ll cover mudslide claims for customers who don’t have optional flood insurance.

Jackson’s bill, SB917, would require insurers to pay for losses from mudslides triggered by wildfires or other covered disasters.

It’s unclear how many customers are affected.


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