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A week after Montecito mudslides, survivors prepare to rebuild life


It was shortly after 2 a.m. last Tuesday when Mari Mitchel heard a loud thud.

"We heard a loud thud and a crack," said Mitchel. "And the garage from across the street was just dislodged and that was what crashed into our bedroom wall.”

Mari and her husband Hank were in their Montecito home when the mudslides came crashing through the voluntary evacuation zone.

We would holler for each other when we would surface out of the water. It’s incredible that one of us didn’t die in it.
Mari Mitchell, mudslide survivor

“It cracked enough so that it broke the wall open and all the mud came flying through and sucked us under," said Mitchel, who recalls being in neck-deep, toxic mud water.

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Mari and Hank Mitchel at a friend's home in Santa Barbara.

"I heard these voices on our roof," said Mitchel. "And they were the voices of two little boys and their mom whose garage had dislodged. She’d put them on mattresses and they’d floated across the street and landed on our house."

You can tell she's told this story countless times to countless worried friends. Her voice still cracks a little. She takes a lot of pauses.

Still, she's trying to focus on rebuilding her life, with a potentially destroyed home.

"My wedding rings went away in the mud and that broke my heart," said Mitchel. "We’ve been married a long time."

They have a 24-year-old son, too, who was away in Northern California when the mudslides struck. The married couple hasn't been able to visit their home since the incident struck the wealthy Southern California enclave a week ago, but they're preparing for the worst.

"Each day, I think, 'Ok, it’s too much to think about the day, so I’m going to think about the next hour.'"
Mari Mitchell, Montecito mudslide survivor
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A car stuck in mud outside of a home in Montecito, California.

"I know it’s going to be shocking and awful," says Mitchel. "And [it will] hurt tomorrow night a lot, but it’s part of how you get to the next place."

Mari and Hank have been staying with friends in nearby Santa Barbara. They've gotten by with help from a lot of friends—a jacket here, a place to stay there and a car to use a few blocks down the road.

"My husband and I are such can-do people, and I keep saying, 'What happens when can do people can’t?' And that’s where we are," she says.

When they visit their home sometime before the end of the week—they hope—they plan to retrieve some insurance papers and any valuables they can. The Mitchels, who personally knew some of the 20 people who died in the mudslides, say this experience has made them aware of their privilege.

"There are people in the world that live with this everyday of their lives," says Mari Mitchell. "We are so blessed that we have a way out. We will find a way out."

Related stories on Circa:
Rescue and repair efforts are underway after the deadly mudslides in Montecito
The death toll has risen to 20 after rain triggers mudslides in Southern California
The fires in California have created as much pollution as cars do in one year, experts say

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