Environment & Science

National Guard soldier ferried Montecito mud survivors to safety

California Army National Guard Pfc. Yessenia Mendoza at the wheel of the all-terrain military cargo truck she drove to help carry victims of the Montecito mud disaster to safety. She and others in the 1114th Composite Transportation Company spent several days ferrying people from their mud-bound homes to a local shopping center where they could connect with the American Red Cross and other aid.
California Army National Guard Pfc. Yessenia Mendoza at the wheel of the all-terrain military cargo truck she drove to help carry victims of the Montecito mud disaster to safety. She and others in the 1114th Composite Transportation Company spent several days ferrying people from their mud-bound homes to a local shopping center where they could connect with the American Red Cross and other aid.
Sharon McNary/KPCC

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California Army National Guard soldiers pulled more than 1,800 Montecito residents to safety in the days after Tuesday's disastrous mudslide, officials said.
 
One of those soldiers was Pvt. First Class Yessenia Mendoza, 23, a Cal State Bakersfield student who works two part-time jobs in addition to her service in the 1114th Composite Transportation Company in Bakersfield.

In an unusual move, local authorities had asked the National Guard unit to station four of its heavy all-terrain cargo trucks in Santa Barbara on Monday, Jan. 8, the day before a torrent of mud tore through Montecito.

Mendoza and seven fellow soldiers were sleeping on cots at the Earl Warren Showgrounds when they received the same early-morning alert as local residents in the 3 a.m. hour.

"We could hear them going off in all the tents," she said. "I got one myself."

Within an hour, they were driving axle-deep into the mud, over logs and boulders, plucking families who were stranded.  Mendoza's truck can carry 30 people.
 
"We had families with their children, their dogs. So it got tight in there," she said.  "You could see the relief on their faces."

But many were traumuatized to have seen homes crushed and neighbors swept away in the mud.
 
"They were pretty panicked. They just knew that it happened right before their eyes," Mendoza said.

Sgt. Sam McIntosh of the California Army National Guard took this photo of one of the mud-filled neighborhoods where he and others in his 1114th Composite Transportation Company drove heavy trucks to ferry survivors to safety.
Sgt. Sam McIntosh of the California Army National Guard took this photo of one of the mud-filled neighborhoods where he and others in his 1114th Composite Transportation Company drove heavy trucks to ferry survivors to safety.
Sgt. Sam McIntosh/California Army National Guard, 1114th CTC

At one home near railroad tracks, a woman got the soldiers' help to walk through knee-deep mud from her doorstep to a truck in the still mud-flooded street. One soldier walked ahead, she put her hands on his shoulders, and a second soldier followed her, helping her lift each leg to step forward.

Once released from disaster duty, Mendoza’s due for a rest.

"I can sleep anywhere, that's what we're trained for," she said.

More soldiers and equipment from her company soon arrived in Santa Barbara and they spent much of the first days after the disaster shuttling families from their homes to a shopping center. From there, a bus carried them to a Red Cross post where they could get shelter and other aid.

Maj. General David S. Baldwin, head of the California Army National Guard, speaks with a soldier of the 1114th Composite Transportation Company from Bakersfield on Friday, Jan. 12. They were at the Earl Warren Showgrounds, where the unit had been pre-positioned to rescue people affected by the Montecito mudflow disaster.
Maj. General David S. Baldwin, head of the California Army National Guard, speaks with a soldier of the 1114th Composite Transportation Company from Bakersfield on Friday, Jan. 12. They were at the Earl Warren Showgrounds, where the unit had been pre-positioned to rescue people affected by the Montecito mudflow disaster.
Sharon McNary/KPCC