Posted in Behind the News

Trudging through mud to get the shot

, by Lauren Easton

As search crews in California look for victims of this week’s deadly mudslides in Montecito, AP journalists are on the ground covering the rescue efforts and the destruction left behind.  

San Francisco-based photographer Marcio Jose Sanchez, who arrived in the area Tuesday night, described how he captured some striking images of the aftermath.

A firefighter stands on the roof of a house submerged in mud and rocks in Montecito, California, Jan. 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
How were you able to access these badly damaged areas? What have conditions been like?  Photo editor Stephanie Mullen had the idea to have one of us drive into the scene from up north. Everyone who came in from Los Angeles was shut out, but since I was coming in from San Francisco, I was able to take some back roads and get into some towns. Conditions have been really scary. There’s knee-deep, waist-deep mud, unpredictable terrain, covered manholes, covered swimming pools, cars all over the place — lots of destruction. In the five-mile radius of two subdivisions where I’ve been, some homes have been razed. Only the foundation is left. It is quite a scene, for sure. There are miles and miles of rocks everywhere because the mudslide created a torrent of rocks that came down form the mountain. That’s making it very difficult to walk around, and dangerous.
You have a lot of experience covering wildfires, most recently in Northern California last October. How does shooting wildfires compare to the mudslides you’ve been covering this week? Wildfires are more dangerous in the sense that they’re dangerous when you get there. This is more of an aftermath situation. It came and it went. They require a different kind of preparation, too. For example, if I didn’t have knee-high rain boots and proper pants I would have been in real trouble. To cover fires you must wear fire retardant clothing.
A structure damaged from storms is shown in Montecito, California, Jan. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
The similarity between the two is the unpredictability. In fires you have flames and you don’t know which direction they’re going. Walking around here in knee-deep and waist-deep mud you don’t know what you’re facing as you make your way around these neighborhoods. What kind of equipment are you using? In situations like this you have to travel light. I’m carrying two Canon 1D X Mark II cameras with video capabilities, though most video is shot on the phone; and two lenses, a 24-70mm wide-angle zoom and a 100-400mm 4.5-5.6L lens for distance.

Follow AP’s coverage of the mudslides here.