MONTECITO, Calif. - Saturday marks the three year anniversary of the 1/9 Montecito mudslide disaster.
So much has changed in the community since that dark and horrific morning. Many of the more than 400 homes and properties damaged or destroyed have been rebuilt, debris basins widened, and residents are finding new leases on life. Still, for many locals, the memory is frozen in time.
"One of the things is deliberately, I don't schedule myself that day," said Kim Cantin.
Cantin, who lost her husband, Dave, and son, Jack, in the mudslide, survived the disaster along with her daughter, Lauren.
"I realize grief can come in different waves and I want to be gentle on myself. I don't know what I'm going to want to do that day so I want to leave it open. If I want to go to the cemetery or stroll the beautiful benches that were made or go by my old property."
She said it is the love and support of the community that keeps her and Lauren putting one foot forward. And, precious keepsakes recovered from the mud, including the quilt she made for her husband, a pair of Jack's glasses and, his old Superman costume from one Halloween.
Cantin showed NewsChannel a new keepsake. It is a video clip sent to her this past New Year's showing Jack with friends during New Year's 2018, goofing around and having fun as a typical 17-year-old.
"It was a tremendous gift because when I look at it I hear his voice, I see his movement, I see his happiness and his playfulness and silliness. And, it feels like it could've been yesterday. And so that is the best gift I could get."
Cantin also talked about ramped up efforts to find Jack's remains and those of two-year-old old Lydia Sutthithepa. UC Santa Barbara's Anthropology Department created a class for that specific purpose as the two children are the only remains not found among the 23 victims who perished.
"This is a project that has such meaning and meaning to this community and meaning to gosh, me as a mother who wants to find my sons remains."
NewsChannel also spoke with Montecito resident Marco Farrell as the community reflects on the three year anniversary. His family home was ground zero for the 1/9 disaster. Farrell captured one head of the monstrous flow that unimaginable morning as it closed in on Olive Mill Rd. and thought back on that terrifying image.
"Just unbelievable the forces that were there and how incredibly lucky we are to have survived."
Farrell said three years later, he still struggles with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the disaster.
Both Cantin and Farrell are grateful for the upcoming commemoration, Raising Our Light, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's going to be different but it's still love and it's still the arms of the community wrapped around each other," said Farrell. "It's a pity that we can't physically feel them but it's there."
"We're here for them still," said Abe Powell.
The Bucket Brigade co-founder and event organizer said Saturday night's remote commemoration will culminate with the tolling of church and school bells, 23 times -- one for each victim. A dramatic searchlight display will follow as its sent up into the night sky.
"People all around can go out of their door and look and see the light in the sky and know their community remembers them and cares for them."
Saturday's event begins at 6:30 p.m. and will livestream on three sites, including here at NewsChannel. You'll find more information on the Bucket Brigade website.