Stories of Survivors of Deadly Mudslides in Montecito

One of the survivors of this week’s deadly mudslides in Montecito was the subject of one of the most dramatic rescues to take place when she was pulled covered in mud from a collapsed house. Another, who lost her life at her home, was a ballerina turned real-estate agent known in some quarters of this enclave for the wealthy and famous as “The First Lady of Luxury Real Estate.”

Other victims of the storm that killed at least 17 people remained missing Thursday while still others marveled that they had somehow survived the devastation.

Here are some of their stories:

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Fourteen-year-old Lauren Cantin became the face of survival when rescuers pulled the dazed, mud-covered girl from her flattened home in Montecito earlier this week, but family friends who launched a GoFundMe page reported her father and older brother were still missing.

Hours after that posting, authorities confirmed Thursday that Lauren’s 49-year-old father, David, was killed. Her 16-year-old brother, Jack, remained missing.

NeoTract, a maker of devices used in the medical field of urology, launched the page Wednesday, asking for financial support for the family of Cantin’s mother, Kim, a marketing executive in the health-care field.

In its first hours of the effort, which began with the words, “We wanted to inform you of a horrible event that has occurred within the NeoTract family,” nearly $30,000 was pledged. That easily surpassed the goal of $20,000.

It took firefighters hours to dig Lauren out of the mud that destroyed her home.

“I thought I was dead for a minute,” she told them before an ambulance spirited her away.

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Rebecca Riskin was the picture of success and health before she was killed in this week’s deadly Montecito mudslides.

Her firm, Riskin Partners, credited the former ballerina with having closed more than $2 billion in high-end real estate sales since founding the company in the early 1990s. The firm dubbed her, “The First Lady of Luxury Real Estate.”

“She’s leaving a huge void. She was exceptional,” said Gina Conte, who described Riskin, maid of honor at her wedding, as her best friend, mentor and confidante.

She said the 61-year-old took joy in pairing the perfect home with the perfect family and, in her personal time, loved cooking, going for long walks and spending movie nights with family.

Riskin was swept away after a mudslide tore through her living room, Conte said, adding her husband survived because he was in bed in a part of the house that stayed intact. Her body was found Wednesday near U.S. Route 101.

Riskin Partners spokeswoman Erin Lammers said Riskin was a member of the American Ballet Theater in New York before an injury cut short her dancing career. She returned to her hometown of Los Angeles in 1979, where she began selling high-end real-estate on the city’s west side. She moved to Montecito in the early 1990s.

Riskin is survived by her husband, two grown children and a grandson.

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The monsoon-like rain was terrifying enough, but when David Weinert saw the house across the street erupt in flames fueled by a severed gas line he knew it was time to abandon his Montecito home.

“Load up the car, get the dogs, we’re out of here,” the 58-year-old shopping center developer says he told his wife.

Unfortunately, there was no place to go. A police officer told him mudslides had already blocked all the roads out of Montecito.

After driving for a few minutes he concluded the cop was right and returned home. There he saw mudslides enveloping his street.

“The winds were just crazy. Trees were cracking. It was scary all right,” he said Thursday.

Weinert’s house was somehow spared but one of his neighbors, real-estate agent Rebecca Riskin, was swept to her death by the mudslide.

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With the window rapidly closing on the time needed to find any remaining mudslide victims alive, attorney Trevor Quirk and a handful of friends donned chest-high waders, grabbed shovels and chain saws and canvassed mud-saturated streets of Montecito looking for survivors.

They failed to find any Wednesday, the 41-year-old married father of three said, but didn’t find any bodies either, which provided him some solace.

“You’re walking around in waist-deep soup,” he said of the grueling undertaking. “It’s very thick mud and you’re just poking around. You could be stepping on a body and not even know it … It’s almost like being blind-folded and poking around in the dark.”

On Thursday the attorney from nearby Ojai turned his efforts to helping at a relief center, leaving it to authorities to continue the search.

“At this moment we are still looking for live victims,” Santa Barbara Fire Capt. Gary Pitney said Thursday as about 15 searchers climbed through the rubble in the backyard of a destroyed home while rescue dogs swam through thick water trying to pick up a human scent. He added, however, that “the likelihood is increasing that we’ll be finding bodies, not survivors.”

Quirk, meanwhile, planned to keep working at the relief center.

“I’m not sitting at my desk typing on a computer, talking with lawyers about money when I could be effecting change,” he said.

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For a time during the deadly storm, 81-year-old Paula McDonald was one of the missing, without electricity or cellphone service and unable to reach her children to say she was all right as chaos erupted all around her.

McDonald was still at home in her retirement community of Casa Dorinda on Thursday, adding there was no point in leaving now because she needs oxygen that is hard to transport to a hotel.

She did take a look around outside to see just what the driving rainstorm had wrought as it triggered mudslides on hillsides laid bare by one of the largest wildfires in state history just last month .

“It’s just incredible. Seeing pictures doesn’t do it justice,” she said of the downed trees, flattened houses and mud-saturated streets. “I thought the fires were the worst things I’d seen in my life.”

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Associated Press Writer Krysta Fauria contributed to this story from Montecito. Associated Press Writer Amanda Lee Myers contributed from Los Angeles and Rogers reported from Los Angeles.

Source: Associated Press

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