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When debris flowed, Montecito families had little chance to flee

Joe Mozingo, Brittny Mejia and Matt Hamilton, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

At 3:38 a.m., the storm unleashed its rain on the mountainside, dropping a half-inch in five minutes that drenched miles of precipitous terrain before draining into four creeks that cross Montecito to the ocean. The burned and waxy soil had no time to absorb the rainwater.

Boulders crushed cars. Mud and logs tore houses apart as if they were made of dust.

People stood little chance.

In normal times, Montecito Creek, the easternmost stream, gently flowed under stone bridges, through concrete and boulder channels.

It was now in no mood to meander, no mood to abide by any efforts humans had employed to claim control -- debris basins, channel walls, culverts, sandbags, emergency alerts and, particularly lethal, the distinction between "mandatory" and "voluntary" evacuation zones.

The torrent rolled 2-ton stones and uprooted enormous trees.

At his home, 60 feet above the creek, Jeff Bermant woke to windows rattling and his bed shaking.

"Earthquake," he thought.

The shaking stopped and started; it was not the same rhythm as an earthquake. He looked out his window and noticed the rain and the orange glow of a fire in the distance.

Four of his friends would die before daybreak.

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