Professor, AD Brave Montecito Mudslides

Westmont professor Tom Walters waits as his daughter is rescued by first responders following the deadly Montecito mudslide.

Westmont professor Tom Walters waits as his daughter is rescued by first responders following the deadly Montecito mudslide.

Westmont’s athletic director bravely rescued a friend who was trapped in her vehicle, caught in the deadly mudslides that struck Montecito early Jan. 9. Dave Odell received a frantic cell phone call from Kathi King, who had escaped her swamped car and climbed a tree to temporary safety. Watch the KEYT NewsChannel 3 story.

Tom Walters, Westmont assistant professor of kinesiology, his wife, Kirsten, and their girls, Reese, 6, and Taylor, 4, evacuated to the Montecito Inn from their East Mountain Drive home, but it wasn’t far enough to be out of harm’s way. A Noozhawk article tells the story of the National Guard rescuing them from the mudslide that surrounded the hotel.

Kati King poses with Westmont Athletic Director Dave Odell

Westmont President Gayle. D. Beebe, who had previously guided the college through two wildfires, examines the latest disaster in a KKLA radio interview with Frank Sontag. In the discussion, Beebe explores his faith and the role of suffering in our Christian lives.

Russell Smelley, Westmont kinesiology professor and head coach of the track and field and cross country teams, has allowed us to share a letter he wrote to his track alumni.

Dear Alumni and Friends,

The Thomas Fire encroached on our peace of mind from 40 miles away to arrive on the slopes above Westmont College and our faculty housing neighborhood on December 16. The lesser available fuel due to the Tea Fire in 2008 allowed firefighters to stamp out the threat right at the edge of campus. My family returned home from a long Christmas trip to ash and a smoky smell, but our house and neighborhood were intact. Westmont and faculty housing escaped a repeat fire event due to the heroic efforts of tired but well placed and determined firefighters.

President Gayle D. Beebe is interviewed by phone on the Frank Sontag Show

President Gayle D. Beebe is interviewed by phone on the Frank Sontag Show

We were back in classes at Westmont on January 8. On Tuesday morning, the predicted rain arrived at 3:00 am with volume and wind ferocity.  With the College’s and Faculty housing positions on the crest of a slope and steep barrancas on both sides of us, the rain stayed in the drainage areas and caused no issues. Simply a severe winter storm. On the denuded mountain to our east, Montecito Peak, the 1/2 an inch of rain that fell in five minutes screamed off the slopes to the creeks below. A total of 2 inches of rain were enough to create a disaster that washed all the way to the ocean. Rocks, boulders, full trees and debris were swept along with the gathering water and mud and burst through Montecito and literally wiped out houses in its path. The boulders and trees tumbling through the area in the dark took out everything in their path. The destruction is hard to comprehend as the terrain is literally changed from Mountain Drive to East Valley Road and down Hot Springs and Olive Mill roads. Houses are gone, roads are eradicated, mud flows have altered the landscape and their are view lines where none formally existed.

The loss of life feels devastating. Children, elderly, and families have been lost and not all have been found. The clean-up, recovery and grieving are going to be a long and painful process.

The links below can give you an idea of the effects of the flood and mudslides that found their way to the ocean.

Russell Smelley

Russell Smelley

Due to several breaks in the Montecito water delivery system, Westmont evacuated students on Wednesday January 10 with the plan to return for classes on January 16. There is no storm damage on campus, just the current inability to provide water for 1,200 students. The Administration is keeping a close hand on developments in this disaster that is being felt wider than the flood zone. We anticipate some return to normalcy when classes can resume. It will be a memorable Senior year for the class of 2018.

For my family, we are safely at home monitoring the water situation. Most of the faculty are sticking it out in Las Barrancas with us. We have electricity, gas and food. and the roads leading to the west are open. Highway 101 to the south toward Los Angeles is closed by mudslides and is not due to open before later next week. We are content and know that we have friends to escape to if necessary. We are acutely aware of the devastation just a mile or two away. We see it on TV like everyone else but know it is in our larger neighborhood. Just letting you know Westmont and its people are OK. I hope all is well in your neighborhood.


Russell Smelley



    Please be praying for Connor and his family – Connor is in his final year at Westmont.

    Ramon Gupta , Adjunct Professor – Business Law

  2. Praying for you all!! Prov 18:10