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Episcopal church converted to emergency response hub after deadly California mudslides

Posted on: January 15, 2018 2:43 PM
A California National Guard Humvee is parked outside All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Montecito, California, where the church was being used as a triage centre for paramedics and as an evacuation site by the National Guard.
Photo Credit: All Saints-by-the-Sea / ENS
Related Categories: California, disaster, USA

[Episcopal News Service, by David Paulsen and Mary Frances Schjonberg] Sunday worship services at All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church proceeded as scheduled on 7 January, as a storm loomed in the forecast. Since then, deadly mudslides and flooding have turned life upside-down in Montecito, California. At least 17 people are dead, and this tight-knit ocean-side community south of central Santa Barbara is under a mandatory evacuation order as emergency crews search for survivors and victims, restore utilities and beginning cleaning up the mud and debris that damaged and destroyed homes in their path.

All Saints was spared the worst of the damage but has no power or phone service, and the natural gas was shut off to allow repair crews to begin their work, said Sheri Benninghoven, a parishioner who has led communication efforts for the congregation. The parish’s school is closed, and worship services are cancelled until further notice.

The work of the Lord continued this week, however, as the church grounds became a triage centre for people injured in the disaster, and Benninghoven said church leaders estimated hundreds of people descended on the church during the heart of the emergency – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – seeking medical help and, eventually, evacuation assistance from the California National Guard, which staged operations from All Saints.

“I think we’re all somewhat in shock. I think a lot of people are doing things based on adrenaline,” Benninghoven told Episcopal News Service by phone. “This is stunning and remarkable for everybody. This community has been hit really, really hard, and we will always think back to this week and no one will ever be the same.”

  • Click here to read the full report by David Paulsen and Mary Frances Schjonberg for the Episcopal News Service.