A hillside destabilized by heavy rains gave way Monday afternoon and buried part of La Conchita and Highway 101 under several feet of mud with accounts of severe property destruction and one reported fatality.
Firefighters from both Santa Barbara and Ventura County fire departments spent the afternoon rescuing and evacuating residents of the small coastal village near the Santa Barbara and Ventura county line. Local news crews at the scene captured footage of cars completely submerged in water and houses buried under a wall of mud. There was one confirmed fatality resulting from the landslide, Tom Kruschki of the Ventura County Fire Dept. said.
“We already had people and equipment out there conducting evacuations prior to the landslide,” Kruschki said. “The area was already isolated by flooding.”
No firefighters were injured during the landslide. La Conchita residents are being evacuated to the Ventura County Fairgrounds.
The Santa Barbara and Ventura offices of the California Highway Patrol assisted with the rescue procedures. Officer Steve Reed of the Ventura station said about 15 homes were destroyed in the landslide and approximately 50 people were injured.
“Apparently, there were some people trapped in the downed structures,” Reed said. “We’ve been working with the fire department to issue traffic controls in the area.”
The landslide and flooding caused Caltrans to close Highway 101 in both directions. Caltrans spokesman Colin Jones said the highway will remain closed indefinitely while cleaning crews work to make the roads passable.
“We’ve called in emergency contractors to help with the work. Although we’re limited in what we can do during the rain, we’re still out there working toward containment,” Jones said. “We should know a lot more tomorrow about when the roads will be opened again.”
As of Monday afternoon, Jones said the water and mud flowing over the 101 at La Conchita was 10 feet deep and several hundred feet long.
Caltrans has closed several other roads in Santa Barbara County in connection with the recent storms. Highway 154 is closed west of Painted Cave Road because of a mud and rockslide. Jones said 154 will remain closed for several days. Other roads closed in Santa Barbara County include Highways 166, 150, 192, 144 and 1.
Although Jones said he is urging Santa Barbara residents to avoid any unnecessary travel, the Gaviota Pass is still open, which means motorists can take the 101 north to Paso Robles, then the 46 east to the I-5.
“From Santa Barbara County, even though there are road closures, it’s still possible to travel to Ventura and Los Angeles,” Jones said.
Although there are no mandatory evacuations issued for Santa Barbara County, the fire department has issued voluntary evacuations for Santa Barbara residents on Conejo Road, Sycamore Canyon Road and Stanwood Drive from 11 p.m. on Monday to 9 a.m. Tuesday. Shelters are located at the Carrillo Recreation Center in Santa Barbara, the Veterans Memorial Building in Carpinteria and the San Rafael Church in Goleta.
As of early this morning, the National Weather Service reported that heavy rain is expected throughout today and into this evening with a high probability of clearing by tomorrow morning.
The last major landslide to occur in La Conchita was on March 4, 1995. No one was killed or injured in that landslide, but nine homes were completely buried under mud.