Santa Barbara officials ‘very excited’ about progress made on Hwy. 101

Santa Barbara County residents who have been displaced for nearly two weeks after the deadly mudslides in Montecito could be able to return to their homes near the end of the month.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said during a press conference Friday at Earl Warren Showgrounds that “a variety of different factors” will determine when the repopulation process can begin.

Brown said the closures of Highway 101, as well as Coast Village Road and Jameson Lane, which have been used primarily for heavy trucks and equipment for debris removal and utility repair, will need to be clear before residents can return. It will likely be an incremental process, he said.

“Once that is accomplished, and basic utilities have been repaired and restored to the area, we will be beginning the repopulation process,” Brown said.

There are currently 900 personnel assigned to the incident, and officials say the top priority is locating the three people who are still missing. Brown said 16 additional dog search and rescue teams will be joining the units already in place on Saturday morning.

“We know that this has been a very trying, sad and unsettling time for our community and that it continues to be,” Brown said. “But I just want to say that we will get through this together.”

There was some encouraging news Friday morning.

Caltrans announced the portion of Highway 101 in Santa Barbara County that has been closed for more than a week is expected to reopen on Monday. Highway 101 has been closed since Jan. 9 at Milpas Street on the southbound side and Highway 150 on the northbound side.

Tim Gubbins, district director for Caltrans District 5, said crews are working 24 hours a day to repair road signs, install guardrails and stabilize embankments.

“As of right now, almost all of the mud has been cleared away from the roadway,” Gubbins said, “and we are doing critical work of clearing the drainage systems and that work continues. We’re very excited about the progress we’ve made.”

About 1,100 Southern California Edison customers remained without power as of Friday afternoon, according to region manager Rudy Gonzales.

Gonzales said crews are working around the clock to restore power, and he pointed to a targeted date of Jan. 31 to have power back to all homes that weren’t significantly damaged or destroyed.

SoCalGas spokeswoman Maria Ventura said about 1,000 businesses and homes still do not have natural gas service, and she encouraged residents to visit for the most up-to-date information about when restoration will occur in each neighborhood.

Ventura said bills will be forgiven for homes destroyed in the mudslides.

A boil water notice remains in effect for the Montecito water district, said spokesman Nick Turner. A partial cancellation of the boil water notice was issued on Thursday for parts of Summerland and the upper Toro Canyon region.

Turner said water “may be available at all taps” as soon as Monday.

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