California parish faces mudslides, flooding on 5th anniversary of disaster that killed 23
Road workers close the access to the 101 Freeway at Olive Mill Road as a result of San Ysidro Creek overflowing due to heavy rainfall in the area on Jan. 9, 2023, in Montecito, California. The town was ordered evacuated on Monday with firefighters warning mudslides could engulf homes. Montecito, a town of about 9,000 people, was expected to get up to eight inches of rain in 24 hours —on hillsides already sodden by weeks of downpours. | Photo by APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images
Amid massive rainfall and significant flooding and mudslides in California, a substantial portion of the U.S. West Coast’s population faced hazardous weather conditions to start the week of Jan. 9.
The latest in a series of unusually strong storms that have struck the nation’s most populous state in recent weeks, much of California is currently receiving rainfall that is four to six times higher than average, CNN reported. At least 14 people have died amid the chaos.
Five years ago on Jan. 10, 2018, a massive mudslide caused by similar weather conditions killed nearly two dozen people in the town of Montecito, California.
“It’s amazing that this storm came five years to the day after the mudflow when 23 people died,” Father Lawrence Seyer, a local pastor, told CNA.
“Ten of them had a connection to our parish, and we did quite a few funerals for them five years ago ... thank God we didn’t have that kind of destruction this time, but flooding has been the main issue.”
Seyer is pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Montecito, which is located on the Pacific coast about 100 miles west of Los Angeles. Seyer said he had been informed by someone at his parish that his church building remains unharmed as of Tuesday afternoon, but the nearby Montecito Creek continues to overflow its banks.
The entire town was ordered to evacuate on Monday because of significant flooding, mudslides, and debris flows. Montecito got nearly 10 inches of rain over 24 hours ending late Monday, CNN reported. Seyer said he is currently sheltering with a family member in a town about an hour southeast of his parish, having been unable to return to Montecito after traveling to Los Angeles for a meeting. Seyer also said he has not heard any reports of parishioners needing assistance with their evacuations.
During the 2018 mudslides, approximately 163 people in Montecito were hospitalized. Police said the scene “looked like a World War I battlefield,” the BBC reported at the time.
“Thank God it’s not as bad of a disaster,” Seyer said of the current weather conditions. He requested prayers for all those affected and said the parish community is invoking the protection of St. Margaret of Hungary, who lived in the 13th century and is considered the patron saint of floods.
The mudslides of five years ago were exacerbated by the damage left by wildfires in the area. Full-scale evacuations due to the threat of mudslides have become more common in Montecito since the 2018 disaster, Seyer said, causing a “hassle and a stress on everyone.”
“Five years later, we thought we were kind of through it. And here we are back again. So I think it’s really been taxing people, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some people move out,” Seyer commented.
“But in the end, we’ve got to put our trust in the Lord that he’s going to guide and help us.”
Heavy precipitation will continue for much of California through Tuesday night, and “scattered to widespread instances of flash flooding will be possible, especially near steep terrain and burn scars,” the National Weather Service said. A new round of “atmospheric river” rain is expected to hit Northern California beginning on Wednesday.
Jonah McKeown is a staff writer and podcast producer for Catholic News Agency. He holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism and has worked as a writer, as a producer for public radio, and as a videographer. He is based in St. Louis.
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