Mudslide at El Capitan Results in Rescue Mission
March 10, 2017
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Heavy rain poured down on Santa Barbara County, causing a mudslide on the morning of January 20th. The Santa Barbara County Fire Department and the Sheriff’s Department Search and Rescue Team were called in to rescue campers staying at El Capitan Canyon Campground.
A combination of heavy rain and the rugged Sherpa Fire burn area caused 22 vehicles and five cabins to be washed away, causing the private resort to become the setting for a rescue mission. Twenty-four people were rescued in total by both the Santa Barbara Fire Department and the Sheriff’s Department Search and Rescue team, who responded around 9:30 AM. Fortunately, there were no injuries.
Captain David Zaniboni of the Santa Barbara Fire Department states that when the fire department arrived, they had already seen the cabins and several vehicles piled up against the embankment.
Almost immediately, the Fire Department discovered that a person was trapped in their vehicle in the rushing water. The Fire Department was able to set up a ropes system to get down into the embankment to rescue the individual.
The Fire Department then continued searching the immediate area for possible victims.
Lucy Monreal, the manager of housekeeping at El Capitan Canyon, witnessed the mudslide from beginning to end, and had an overwhelmingly dangerous experience as first responders had to rescue her from her car.
“It started raining around nine like really really hard,” said Monreal. “I was telling my housekeepers to stay inside of the cafeteria because it was raining so hard. When all the water and the trees and the cabins started moving it was around 9:35-9:40.”
Guests were evacuated and ran to the freeway, where the entrance to the resort is located.
During the chaos of it all, Monreal became stuck in one of the resort’s trucks.
“I was inside of one of the resort trucks, that’s why I got stuck in the middle of everything,” Monreal said. “I wanted to make sure that it was okay to send my housekeepers to work, and in that moment, I saw all my housekeepers with another person inside of a truck ready to take off. I was inside of my truck the whole time.”
Monreal was stuck inside of the resort truck for around 30 minutes, terrified of the thought of death.
“I thought I was about to die over there,” Monreal said. “I was saying, ‘God please, I know that I have to die but this is not the way I want to die’ because in one moment, all of my truck was covered in mud, and I could just hear and feel that something was like hitting the truck, like a cabin or a tree or maybe another car.”
As the rescue team came towards her to save her, she was desperate as ever to escape.
“I was yelling for them to help me out of there and they yelled back to me saying the rescuers are coming, the rescuers are coming, calm down, you need to breathe, and sure enough that’s what did. The rescuers came and got me out of the truck.”
She was then escorted to an ambulance where responders had checked up on her, making sure that she was alright.
Monreal returned to El Capitan Canyon the next day.
“You know, what I wanna see where I walked, I wanted to confirm my reality and I want to thank God because I’m alive,” said Mrs. Monreal. “I wanted to see my car, where’s my car, and my car was right in the middle of two cabins full of mud and surrounded by trees. I’m thankful for the rescuers and the firefighters and who got me out of there, and I just thank God to be alive.”
The Fire Department takes several precautions in a situation where a person must be rescued.
“Our safety is the number one priority, because if we get injured or incapacitated then we’re no help to anyone else,” Zaniboni said. “We take a lot of precautions. For this particular incident, before our firefighters went down into the water, they had their personal location devices on and people who went down were qualified water rescuer personnel. Depending on the incident we take precautions we use safety equipment for different scenarios.”
Alan Angel, a junior at DPHS, was also affected by the El Capitan mudslide, as two of his uncles who work there had to escape from it.
His uncles, who work in the kitchen, had seen that it had started flooding. As the mudslide came down, they had to run up a hill to escape.
The damage caused by the mudslide was highly significant, but there has been no dollar estimate on the amount of damage.
“There were 22 cars that went, and seven of the cars went astray to the beach,” Monreal said. “We have a big tunnel for the water to go downhill, and seven cars went through that tunnel, and they went straight to the beach. It was horrible, really horrible.”
One of Angel’s uncles had their car destroyed as well.
“I felt really bad because one of my uncles’ car was brand new and he worked a lot to get it.” Angel said. “It got destroyed and now he has no car until he can buy at least a used one.”
El Capitan Canyon has since released a statement saying that they will create a timeline to as to when they will be opening up the resort again, and their website along with their social media sites will be updated with new and current information.
El Capitan Canyon had also expressed their gratitude for the safety of their staff and guests as well as the support of the community, and the first responders and construction staff who greatly assisted with swift evacuation.
Captain Zaniboni states that the fact that there were no fatalities, not even an injury, for everyone involved, was very remarkable.