​Evac Take 2:Winter 2019


We had the memorial for the anniversary of last year’s mudslide January 9 and there’s been little rains this season, but not ones big enough to trigger an evacuation.  A couple of weeks there was an evacuation order that got lifted after the winds changed and the storm moved away, which many people seemed to feel more annoyed about than grateful that we’d been spared.

Then, the day before yesterday, a sunny Thursday afternoon, this text came in:

SB COUNTY OEM: EVACUATION WARNING for SB Co burn areas. Storm arriving late Friday night. Get SET now. Evacuation orders may be issued Friday.

Thursday evening Ax’s school sent out a message saying their would be school at the usual place though an evacuation was expected for after school. 

The next morning I think the school sent out another message that, yes, school was on, despite the coming storm.  Friday at 1pm I got the official notice:

SB COUNTY OEM: SB County Sheriff's Office has issued an EVACUATION ORDER for SB County Debris Flow Risk Areas by 8PM tonight. More info: ReadySBC.org

A couple of my girlfriends who live in the “red zones” let me know they felt safe staying home with their kids despite the warnings, the orders.  I remember the people who said that last year and didn’t make it, or went through experiences surviving it that have changed them forever.  I emphasized our available guest accommodations and my opinion that leaving was the right idea, but ultimately that’s all I could do.

It started drizzling around 6pm and by 8 it was raining hard.  I went to bed and woke up to evidence of a heavy rain, still going on.  Our yard was a pond, but the water was not coming up into the house yet.  We had power, water, gas.  Yes, so far this was much better than last year.  I felt tense, called a couple of friends, one without power one with.  Everyone was planning a pajama day.

During my morning coffee, this:

SB COUNTY OEM: Flash Flood Warning issued for SB City/Thomas burn area. Flash flooding is occurring or imminent. Go to high ground or shelter in place.

Ok, so at this point we were still considering plans for the day.  An appointment we had texted to cancel, another mom friend said they were not going out after all, and looking outside, at sheets of rain, we decided that yes, it made sense to stay home for the day.

But then, at one point this afternoon the rain broke, and the weather said it would be clear for several hours before starting up again. We attempted to go downtown, the opposite direction from the flood areas, but wound up in a traffic jam and closed road situation a block from our house that had us turning back to go home for fear if we continued on we would not be let back.  The traffic of cars diverted from the closed freeway made the round-the-block trip take what seemed like an hour.

And so to get rid of our stir crazies we took a walk.  There were more people out walking than usual, but almost no cars.  And very few stores open.

We saw a couple pulled over on the Main Street.  Her husband, the driver, exited the car and paced in front of it as the woman screamed into her cell phone. 

I said to Mike, “I think they need help.”

He said, “Go for it,” as Ax and he leaned up against the side of a building to wait.

I peered into the woman’s window, with my kindly face on, and mumbled something like, “help?”

She said, into her phone, “Oh there’s someone here who’s going to help I’ll call you back,” and hung up.  She turned to me, “Do you know how to get out of here?  They’ve blocked the freeway, they’ve blocked the roads!”

“Where are you trying to get?”

She named somewhere south. 

“That’s not going to happen today I’m afraid,” I said. 

“But we have a party tonight!  My grand baby’s birthday party is tomorrow!” She said.

“I know, it’s really hard,” I said.  “You can try going North and East and down again,” I offered.

“That’s what my husband said we had to do,” she said, as if I’d betrayed her.  She couldn’t believe there was no route through the evacuation zone to save a few hours’ drive.  She was done with me.

“Thank you for your help,” she said, in a tone that said please screw off.  I know, because I’ve said thank you in that tone before myself.

“The thing is,” I said, “your grand baby needs you alive to celebrate all the next birthdays with.  This really isn’t about inconvenience it’s about staying safe.”

“That’s what they said at the roadblock!” She said, baffled.  “But I don’t see the disaster! Where is the disaster?”

“Well, that’s it, a flash flood happens in a flash, like, last year the people driving along who got slammed with a mountain of mud and smothered, there was no disaster, and then, all of a sudden, you’re drowning in mud.  So that’s what I’m saying is it’s dry now but the hills are wet and there’s more rain coming.”

“Thank you,” she said, a little softer now, it seemed.

“I’m really sorry,” I said, and I walked away.

Her husband walked up to me.  “What’d she say?” He asked. 

“She said you guys have to get south and I told her south is closed.”

“That’s what I said,” he said. 

And then Mike, Ax, and I walked home.  I dropped the dudes off and kept walking.  I walked past a bunch of police cars and rescue vehicles posting at our local supermarket parking lot.  Some from here, some from other towns.

I gave one uniformed guy the nod I’d seen my husband give frontline folk and got a nod back.  I hope he stays safe.

It’s dry out but I’m so effing grateful  these helpers are here.  I’m so grateful for all the predictors, the planners, the designers, the volunteers ready to keep digging, and for the perspective being in the EMS family has brought me.  There’s danger, there’s precautions, there’s help all around. I’m gonna keep going.

Thank you.


Sascha LiebowitzComment