Molly Freedenberg writes in the weekly Ventura County Reporter about going to cover the La Conchita mudslide and discovering that several victims were her friends. Her Reporter's Notebook (third item in the column) describes a little of what life was like in the intimate community that centered on one of the buried houses:
Tessa, Charlie’s fourteen-year-old daughter, stands behind one of the lines. As soon as I see her, she grabs onto me. She’s near tears. Her Daddy is in there.
I cease being a reporter. I put away my notepad, and avoid helping the other reporters on the scene whom I know from a former job, a former life. I find Annie, whose sister dates Charlie’s son Isaiah. She’s holding on to two of her dogs—a medium-sized and a small one—held together by one single rope. She tells me Charlie’s still in the house, buried beneath the mud. Her boyfriend Griffin, who was sleeping in a bus-made-living-space outside the house, survived with a broken leg. Her twin sister Brie lost all her pets. Brie’s boyfriend and Charlie’s other son, Orion, are up on the hill, trying to dig out their father.
Jeff and I decide we’re more of a hindrance than a help—we can’t dig, we’ve given away all our cigarettes and now we’re just dead weight. We are not Charlie’s closest kin; we are simply loving friends lucky enough to have jobs that allowed us to be on the scene. We navigate the complicated obstacle course of sheriffs, mud and debris to get out.
Two hours later, the phone rings. They’ve found Charlie. Orion identified him. He’s dead. With a smile on his face. The ripples went through our community quickly. We are a close-knit group of friends, and any loss would have an impact. There was denial. Tears. Multiple phone calls. Decisions to meet up as soon as possible.
La Conchita is a small town of fewer than a hundred houses. And the mudslides, though terrible and destructive, only affected four blocks of the town. But within those four blocks, under a mound of impenetrable mud and dangerous debris, a friend of mine struggled for his life—or at the very least, spent the last moments of it trapped in a dark hole, alone.
The photo of Thursday's memorial service on the site where five victims were found is from the coverage in the Ventura County Star.