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Volunteers are helping dig Montecito out from under the mud, one bucket at a time




The Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade is a volunteer group helping Montecito residents dig mud out of their homes after the January mudslides.
The Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade is a volunteer group helping Montecito residents dig mud out of their homes after the January mudslides.
Tom Cole/ Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade

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It's been almost two months since mudslides devastated Montecito. Residents are still working to dig themselves out from the destruction.

The Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade is a volunteer group started by locals who have been helping homeowners dig the mud out of their homes, one bucket at a time.

Tom Cole is a founding member of the group. Cole said the brigade's first focus was digging mud away from and out of people's homes so the houses could dry out and residents could retrieve their remaining possessions.

Sometimes homes were buried in two to four feet of deep mud and residents couldn't even enter their homes, Cole said. the volunteers are clearing the mud away mainly by hand.

"In some areas, we're running these machines that can move a lot more mud than just a single handheld shovel, but it's the collective effort really that makes progress for us," Cole said.

Bucket Brigade volunteers dig mud out of a home.
Bucket Brigade volunteers dig mud out of a home.

Cole said there is a long road ahead of the residents in Montecito as they try to return to some semblance of normal life. With another storm forecast and evacuation warnings issued in parts of Santa Barbara County Wednesday, the future is even more uncertain.

"We're just trying to spread the word to as many people in the community as possible to take the evacuation order seriously," Cole said.

In addition to digging out homes, the volunteers are working to save the local trees that can die from suffocation under the mud if they aren't dug out. Cole said these Coast Live Oak trees help define the character of the community.

Bucket Brigade volunteers dig out mud around a tree.
Bucket Brigade volunteers dig out mud around a tree.
Tom Cole/ Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade

Cole and his wife have done aid work before. Cole said having that experience has helped him to keep calm and comfort homeowners in Montecito.

Working in post-disaster conditions may be somewhat familiar to Cole, but he said it's more emotional when the destruction is in your own community.

"It's very personal right now. We all know people who have lost their homes. Many of us were close with people who lost their lives or lost members of their family," Cole said.

For Cole and his wife and friends on the Bucket Brigade, the clear response to the devastation they saw was to lend their help any way they could.



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