Santa Barbara County officials chose not to send an emergency alert to cellphones warning of mudslides until destructive flooding had already begun in Montecito, officials said Wednesday.
The message, similar to an Amber Alert for abducted children, was sent about 3:50 a.m. Tuesday to all registered cellphones in areas that were under voluntary and mandatory evacuations because of heavy rains that threatened mudflows in the wake of the Thomas fire, officials said.
It’s unclear how many people actually got the alert. But by then, tons of mud, trees, rocks and other debris were rolling down hills that had been burned in the largest fire on record in California. At least 17 people died and more than 100 homes were destroyed.
Jeff Gater, Santa Barbara County’s emergency manager, said the alert was sent because of deteriorating conditions. Officials expected heavy rain, but the downpour was much worse than anticipated and it became clear mudslides were occurring.
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