SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Eighteen people are confirmed dead in this week's mudslides in Southern California. Hundreds of homes have been damaged in the coastal town of Montecito, and this comes just weeks after the largest fire in state history burned across the region. Search and rescue personnel are digging through mud and hope to find survivors even as the number of missing people remains in question. Jonathan Bastian of member station KCRW has been covering this story and joins us now.
Jonathan, thanks for being with us.
JONATHAN BASTIAN, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: What's the area you're in look like now?
BASTIAN: Yeah. Well, you know, it's worth mentioning that this is about 30 square miles of mud. Even after five days of cleanup, houses are still buried 6 feet deep. The 101 freeway is partially shut down. Scott, I saw busted cars that floated all the way down creeks and are now sitting on what are normally these beautiful postcard Santa Barbara beaches. The sheriff told me that the hardest hit area looked like a scene from a World War I battlefield. So this place just has a long recovery ahead.
SIMON: Of course, you mentioned the 101 freeway has been partially shut down. That's the primary coastal route, an utterly beautiful freeway...
SIMON: ...I must say, for those of us who've been lucky enough to be on it. How do people get around on this important artery in the midst of an emergency?
BASTIAN: Yeah. I mean, they're really not getting around. The mud and debris flow has completely isolated places like Santa Barbara from Los Angeles and other cities like Ventura. And it's posing these kind of major problems. For example, Santa Barbara has the closest trauma center to the scene of the disaster, the hospital there. And a lot of nurses that work there just simply couldn't get to work. So a lot of them started to jump on boats that was - they were ferrying them around the wreckage. They could actually get there and get the job done. So it's been a long, long week here.
SIMON: Yeah. We've learned that many of the deaths and injuries occurred in an area that was not under mandatory evacuation. Any idea why authorities didn't tell residents to get out?
BASTIAN: Yeah. It's a little complicated here. But the way it goes is this. There's two designations here. There's mandatory and voluntary evacuations. The mandatory zone was mainly where this fire had burned way up in the hills. That's where authorities thought the flooding would happen. So the rain started up there. And it came down and started picking up intensity. And it came into the lower creek beds. That was a voluntary zone. And that's where all these houses are, right along the creek beds. It's also where all the damage occurred. So safety officials just didn't see this happening or see this coming. It's obviously creating a lot of anger and a lot of finger-pointing right now as well.
SIMON: Well, these would have been people who would have had to evacuate - what? - twice in a matter of weeks.
BASTIAN: Yeah. Exactly. I mean - and I was one of them. I had to leave my house for two weeks because of the fire. So imagine, you know, people had to move out. They had to move back in. And suddenly, they're being asked to move out again. And it's something we don't like to talk about here, but a lot of folks just didn't want to move out again. And it's a real issue, and I think a lot of people are questioning that decision right now.
SIMON: KCRW's Jonathan Bastian speaking with us from Santa Barbara. Jonathan, thanks so much for being with us.
BASTIAN: Thank you, Scott.
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