No more ‘voluntary’ evacuations after California mudslide

SANTA BARBARA, California. – The emergency services in Southern California, the elimination of the word “voluntary” from the language used in the evacuation orders after the devastating mudslides that hit in the last month.

Santa Barbara County officials said Thursday that the new terminology is “pre-evacuation recommendation,” “recommended evacuation warning” and “mandatory evacuation order.”

A huge downpour loose raging torrents filled with large rocks and other debris that bulldozed through the sleeping community of Montecito, sweeping away houses and people. More than 100 homes were destroyed, many others were damaged, and 21 people were confirmed killed and two others remain missing.

Many residents stayed despite the mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders by the deadly storm on Jan. 9.

“We recognize that with regard to the last category, the voluntary evacuation order, we found after the January 9 event which, for some, the emphasis was on the word ‘voluntary’ instead of the word ‘evacuation’, the Sheriff Bill Brown said at a press conference.

“And the reality is that some people understood that and believed that there was a measure of safety that is not really there.”

Brown said that the new terminology is clearer by emphasizing that the evacuation is still recommended.

The storm came in not long after the largest wildfire in the recorded history of California burned away vegetation of slopes and ravines of the Santa Ynez Mountains above Montecito, which sits on the hills overlooking the Pacific ocean about 100 miles (160 kilometers) west of Los Angeles.

County officials said scientists had expected that the greatest damage occurs in the upper elevations of the community, not all the way down the hills to the sea.

“The storm that was predicted and the storm that we prepared was not in the storm that we have gotten,” Brown said. “It was of a much greater intensity.”

The county also released a new interactive map of potential risk areas that used only two categories: high risk and extreme risk. The officials have also started to refer to the disaster of the “1-9 debris flow” to emphasize that it’s not just mud sliding.

“Let us not be fooled that the mountains have flushed the debris from the 1-9 storm,” said Robert Lewin, the county’s director of the Office of Emergency Management. “The mountains and canyons are still loaded with stones, sediment and other junk.”

The province also wants to make use of the new evacuation terminology for forest fires.

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