Montecito survivor reflects: ‘We will never return to this house’

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A year after Mari Mitchel and her husband survived the debris flow in Montecito, she recounts her experience and shares how she’s doing.

“On January 9, the walls of our bedroom cracked open when a garage across the street broke loose from its foundation and crashed into our house. A wall of debris higher than our roofline swallowed us. It’s impossible to block from my memory. I don’t like thinking about it, but the more I do and I’m honest about it, the better I’m able to move forward.

My husband and I are doing well now. We bought a place in Hope Ranch, up on a hill where there are no boulders. The day of the disaster, my husband said so clearly and almost viciously, “We will never return to this house. We will never live here again.” We knew we couldn’t. It was just too traumatic.

It’s scary entering this time of year again. Last week, we heard the rain falling on our house. Even my husband, who doesn’t talk much about what happened, said, “I don’t like the sound of that.” And who doesn’t love rain? I mean, I love rain, and we need it. But it scares us still.

I’ve sought emotional support. I’m so grateful for Cottage Hospital for their programs. For a good while, I was part of the survivors’ group. I was both humbled and touched to be part of it because I met people who will be forever in my heart. They’re incredible people, strong. I’ve also sought out a PTSD specialist. I did that early on, and then I stopped because I thought everything was fine. And then you get a trigger. They come out of the blue.

I’m grateful to have my husband with me, and our son, who’s very supportive. We’re getting there, but we still have a ways to go. We also just adopted a doggie from the Santa Barbara Humane Society. His name’s Walter. He was brought here from Florida after the hurricane. So we’re soulmates.”