Severe mudslides devastated the Montecito area earlier this month, leaving at least 21 dead and more missing. The destruction of the area surrounding Montecito forced the closure of Highway 101 up until Sunday afternoon, forcing UCSB students to take alternative modes of transportation such as train, plane, and even boat.
Heavy rainfall in early January caused significant flooding, and mudslides occurred near the burned areas caused by the Thomas Fire. Residents’ homes, roads, and public property were damaged at extremely fast rates, and 21 people have been found dead, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office. In order to aid the search and rescue efforts, Caltrans, the state entity in charge of recovery and maintenance of all California highways, closed the 101 in addition to smaller highways like Highway 192 on Jan. 9.
Caltrans first said Highway 101 would open on Jan. 15, but issued a statement that day saying that it would not open for “at least another week,” according to its Twitter. UCSB students returning to Santa Barbara for the beginning of winter quarter on Jan. 16 were forced to take alternative routes around Highway 101.
In order to get to Santa Barbara from anywhere south of Montecito, one could have taken Highway 46 to Interstate 5, Highway 166 to Interstate 5, or Highway 58 to Interstate 5. Each route took about 5 hours to get from Santa Barbara to LA.
As an alternative to the five hour trip, students have been taking Amtrak as a method of traveling into Santa Barbara. An Amtrak ticket costs $32 one-way from Union Station in Los Angeles. For third year biopsychology major Ashley Roy, a ticket from the Chatsworth Amtrak station in Los Angeles County cost $25. Roy posted her atypical and chaotic encounter traveling to and from Santa Barbara over the weekend on Facebook Free & For Sale, where 30,000 people are members.
“I tried to buy a train ticket a week in advance, and even a week in advance every Amtrak that was going down to my area was sold out except for business class,” Roy said. “That, for me, was really rough because I usually don’t travel business class, but it was one of those things where I was really desperate to get back because I had some important things to do back home.”
Roy said that things started to go sour at the downtown Santa Barbara station.
“I was sitting in the back so I couldn’t really see what was happening at the station, but according to the conductor, 500 people were trying to get on the train. Once we had gotten there, there was basically chaos on the platform of people pushing and shoving each other and trying to get on the train,” Roy said. “It was kind of scary to see the lack of humanity—to see people pushing and shoving each other, including people who were physically disabled.”
Some students resorted to even more extravagant travels. Second year pre-sociology major Jessica Lemus, a local living in Carpinteria, resorted to taking a tourist ferry in order to get to Goleta. She used Condor Express, one of two lines that offers rides from Ventura to Santa Barbara. After staying with a friend the night before the quarter started, Lemus took a Lyft to UCSB. A ferry ride is around $30, and a Lyft from downtown Santa Barbara is typically $21 and even more expensive during rush hours.
“[The] ferry was $32 one way—expensive. I sent an email to the Financial Aid Crisis team and I haven’t checked my email since,” Lemus said. In an email on Jan. 16, Chancellor Henry Yang announced an emergency fund to help the students who have been affected by the mudslides and forced to take alternative transportation to UCSB.
Lemus said the Dean of Student Life directed her to the team for accommodation aid.
“I think [the University] did the best they could do. [The closure] did make it tougher [for] the few students who do commute, but other than that, I feel like most students were here either way so there was only a small population that they had to account for,” Lemus said. “I think they did a good job with the reimbursement [initiative] and the shuttles they had picking up from the Harbor, so that was neat.”
While Caltrans officially opened Highway 101 through Montecito and Santa Barbara County on Sunday, some ramps in the area will remain closed for a few days. However, the main freeway will stay open, and both Amtrak and the Condor Express will be seeing a lot fewer Gauchos.