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Affectionate Families and Friends,

We are living through incredibly tragic events of the recent mudslide and impact from rock debris in our locality. Our hearts are pouring out for those families who lost their loved ones. Within just a few roaring moments on early Tuesday, 9th January 2018 morning, our precious world slid beneath our foothold of those idyllic neighborhoods in Montecito.

So many lives were shattered in those frightening few moments. Blessed are those who were searched out and rescued by brave responders who held their emotions rummaging through piles of ominous debris. The defining moment was the rescue of a two year old baby muddied all over, crying and trapped underneath debris with a mouthful of mud. Indeed crying is what makes us audible to those who are ready to heed in the time of need.

Nothing but prayers with incessant outpouring of love can give us any solace under these circumstances. We continue to pray for those who might yet be trapped and those who are critically injured, ensnared by the sudden turn to the worst possible scenario. There were many who evacuated before the rainstorm to a southern location, but had to be re-evacuated as the mudslide chased them testing their resolve to survive.

The inflamed fires of last month in the mountainous backcountry left the terrain bare and exposed the way for the flooding and mudslides to precipitate. The very first rainstorm since then brought damage to Montecito’s water distribution system by rupturing the water pipelines at the creek crossings. This resulted in the reservoirs emptying an astounding amount of water within a short time, and 8 – 9 million gallons seems to have flowed out. Most of that water came down the creeks, driving the scale of this catastrophe to its worst possible scenario.

Aerial photos show the beautiful grounds of a much sought after commercial retreat property to be submerged in more than a storey high debris of mud and rocks. What started as a gurgling creek sound rapidly gathered momentum as a wall of water, hurtling trees, boulders and debris. A roaring mudslide descended and emerged from the overflowing creeks uprooting and sweeping the sleeping neighborhood. We were waking up to this disaster seeing how all parts of this idyllic nature that encapsulated the community were completely repainted.

The rainstorm has been followed by bright sunny days as if those few moments of despair were the flashpoints of our lives tucked away in some surreal dark past; seemingly unbelievable as we look back and come to grips with this new ground-reality. Such is the fragility of nature and life. We ruminate on the meaning of it all, and try to breathe in deeply with renewed hope that we shall sustain and continue to live with courage, and not give in to fear of the unknown.

Having trekked in the Himalayan terrain, meditated in caves and lived in mountainous hutments, I am no stranger to the fury of wildfire and the rain driven mudslide. In Himalaya there is the added danger from sudden glacier cracks and snow avalanches close to the hideouts that monks, yogis and siddhas use. Giant boulders come crushing down wiping out all in its path and often close the mouth of an otherwise safe cave entrapping anyone inside with no escape route.

Here in Montecito we have an immense tragedy because of the scale of impact disproportionate to the serenity of neighborhoods. As if the mudslide buried the lands untouched by the recent fires. The backyard gardens with toys and trails are gone. The beauty of Montecito’s backroads and abundant green alleyways are all but wiped out, especially in and around the epicentre of the mudslide.

All of us who are watching the tragic events unfold and those who are local like me and were miraculously spared, may earnestly pray with deepest compassion for relief and solace. When tragedy hits so close to home, we must pick ourselves up and do our part with noblest of goodwill, and support those heroic community servers and relief workers who provide us hope to move forward. May we recognize divine grace and live with gratitude.

With abounding holy blessings,
Swami Vidyadhishananda
(writing from the meditation centre, a few blocks away from the tragedy)

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