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Buried in mud, Montecito faces a daunting cleanup with no end in sight

Matt Hamilton, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

The drying mud on the sides of an abandoned black Range Rover offered a yardstick of progress in the freeway. So far, the swamp line had dropped about 1 foot.

"Highway 101 will reopen. I can guarantee it," Shivers said. "I just can't say when."

The absence of a recovery timeline was the new normal.

"We're not done assessing," said David Song, a spokesman for Southern California Edison. About 1,500 customers remained without power, and so far, officials confirmed 62 power lines were toppled.

In the field, 20 crews -- each with three to six people -- have barely recognized the area. Homes were flattened. Pools were stuffed with sludge. The concrete foundations sometimes peek out, the only indicators of what once was.

"The mudslides created new terrain," Song said. "We have to completely re-engineer and rebuild infrastructure on new ground."

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Mudflows knocked out six sections of Montecito's main water line that snakes along the hills above most homes. There, a pipeline once partly aboveground is now sometimes 50 feet in the air after the ravines beneath it washed out. Access is difficult -- and some crews have to reach it by foot. Debris flows also knocked out a 100-foot section of the pipeline to Jameson Lake, which accounts for up to 40 percent of the area's water supply.

For those who have water, pressure can be low, and they are required to boil it.

"I'm hopeful that very soon we'll be providing water," said Nick Turner, general manager of the Montecito Water District. "We're not days away, but certainly sometime before the next two months."

Another 3,600 Southern California Gas Co. customers were without service.

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