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With a fifth evacuation, Montecito residents are feeling the emotional toll




Santa Barbara County sheriff's deputies taped this evacuation notice a mailbox in Montecito ahead of a powerful storm moving into the region.
Santa Barbara County sheriff's deputies taped this evacuation notice a mailbox in Montecito ahead of a powerful storm moving into the region.
Emily Guerin/KPCC

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Winter storms are bringing heavy rains to Southern California. Thursday morning, the National Weather Service was on a flash flood watch throughout Santa Barbara County.

Thousands of people in Santa Barbara were ordered to evacuate because officials were concerned about the potential for mudslides and debris flows in areas scarred by wildfires last winter. 

Tom Cole was one of those evacuees. He left his home Tuesday and said he hopes to return by Friday. Cole is from Montecito, the coastal town hit by massive mudslides in January that killed 21 people. 

This is the fifth evacuation Cole and his neighbors have experienced since December, he said. One was because of fires and the other four were because of potential floods. The residents of Montecito are staying strong, Cole said, but the repeated evacuations are taking an emotional toll.

There's huge evacuation fatigue. It's a big drain on everybody, emotionally, financially. Trying to organize around school, around work, around your kids, all of that, so a lot of fatigue. 

After having to leave home so many times, Cole said he and his neighbors have the the process down, with systems for packing and finding places to stay.

With this evacuation, Cole said that there has been less rain than expected so far, which gives some feeling of relief.

Cole is also a member of the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade, a local volunteer group helping Montecito residents dig the mud and debris out of their homes. He said that even if that work is undone by the current rains, his bigger concern is for more serous damages, like loss of life.