MONTECITO, Calif. - Montecito residents are gradually being allowed to return to their homes and neighborhoods, exactly two weeks after deadly mudslides rocked the community.
Tuesday was the first day of the re-population process. Approximately, 1,600 people from both voluntary and mandatory evacuation zones were let back in.
For returning Ashley Road resident John Simpson, it's bittersweet. “The emotion of it all came back," he said.
Simpson said he feels lucky his Montecito home is still standing. Just down the road, is a scene of utter devastation.
“Five doors away, two homes were brutally hammered by the mud," Simpson said. "One swept right off its foundation."
Thousands of residents are still waiting to get word of when they can return. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department said the process will be gradual.
“We realize people are eager to get back in their homes. They’ve been incredibly patient. Everybody has been through so much," said Santa Barbara County Sheriff Public Information Officer Kelly Hoover.
Once utilities are restored and roads are clear, more people will be allowed to return. But, residents are urged to be mindful that the recovery process and search for two remaining victims continues.
“Even though we are allowing people to go back in these areas, there is still so much work being done. People need to slow down, be kind and be patient with each other," Hoover said.
“I think right now there is a lot of community spirit," Simpson said. "People want to be part of the rebuilding process. I hope that sentiment lasts, gains traction and defines us as a community.”