River Taff braved perilous conditions in Summerland, CA, to make sure 50 rescue parrots were fed and taken care of during a brutal California storm this week. (Courtesy of River Taff.)
- Torrential rains and mudslides have killed at least 17 people across California this week.
- Staffers at a bird sanctuary spoke about their efforts to care for the parrots amid the storm.
- An 18-year-old employee crossed raging waters to make sure the rescue birds were taken care of.
- For more stories, go to www.businessinsider.co.za,
As torrential rains and heavy winds Swept across California this week, Jamie McLeod’s mind was on her birds.
McLeod, 60, owns and operates the Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuarylocated in Summerland, California, just three miles from the coastal town of Montecitowhere raging floodwaters and dangerous mudslides led to mass evacuation orders on Monday.
McLeod’s home property, just a 15-minute drive above Summerland and perched atop a mountain overlooking the town, was among those included in the Montecito evacuation order issued earlier this week, she told Insider. But once the storm started, there was no way she could leave.
“I’m trapped up here,” McLeod said, citing a gushing creek on one side of her property and an avalanche of mud and debris on the other.
It’s the same house she lived in five years ago to the day when major mudslides devastated the small community, killing 23 people in 2018. The tragedy left McLeod with PTSD, she said. For three years, she couldn’t sleep through the night, waking up in a panic convinced she had to evacuate herself and her rescue parrots.
That history seemed to be repeating itself on the fifth anniversary of the mudslides only made this week’s crisis more monumental. At least 17 people are confirmed dead across the state due to the storms, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday.
“In retrospect, it really prepared me for what I’m going through today,” McLeod said.
This week’s storms began in force on Monday as McLeod’s assistant at the bird sanctuary, 18-year-old River Taff, was in the middle of his weekly errands, which included bringing produce to the parrots at the facility, as well as delivering McLeod’s groceries to her home on top of the mountain.
Taff traveled to McLeod’s front door up the “back way,” he said, avoiding the now-rushing creek rife with flying rocks and fallen trees.
“There was maybe about two feet of flood waters and rolling boulders. It was just insane,” he told Insider. “That got my adrenaline running.”
He was eager to drop off the groceries and “get the heck off the mountain,” before conditions inevitably worsened. But as he turned around to make the journey back to Summerland, Taff said he was stopped by three feet of mud that was “basically impenetrable.”
“My heart was racing,” Taff said. “I raced back to Jamie’s hoping it wasn’t too late.”
Boss and employee hunkered down for the evening, trapped atop the mountain as the rains continued to come down.
As Tuesday rolled around, McLeod’s worries returned to her 50 rescue parrots stuck at the sanctuary down in Summerland who were due for a feeding and water change. She phoned friends at the fire and police departments, hoping someone in town might be able to get to the facility, but the first responders — likely swamped with a wave of other emergencies — didn’t answer.
The Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary is home to about 50 rescue parrots. (Courtesy of River Taff.)
It was up to McLeod and Taff to make sure their furry friends got fed.
With conditions improving in Summerland, McLeod called a neighbor in town with a truck who agreed to make the drive partially up the mountain to try and meet the duo halfway.
McLeod took Taff down to where the wall of mud had stopped him briefly on Monday, the neighbor in his truck waiting on the other side of the deluge. Then, Taff began to cross.
“He took his shoes and his socks off, and in soaked clothes, he walked through a river of mud — this boy named River — to get to this 4×4 truck, where they took him to the sanctuary, where he, as we speak, is still feeding and prepping bird food without shoes and in wet clothing,” McLeod said.
Taff, who spoke to Insider via phone from the sanctuary, said the drive down the mountain, a journey that usually takes just 10 minutes but lasted an hour on Tuesday, was bumpy and “pretty scary.”
But the birds — Southern California creatures who aren’t accustomed to being cooped up in extreme rain — were delighted to see Taff arrive, he said.
“They weren’t too angry,” he joked.
McLeod and Taff said the parrots’ well-being drove their determination to reach them despite the perilous conditions.
“I’ve had to be fierce like a tiger, ringing in funding and protecting them from catastrophic events,” McLeod said. “I’m tired. But they’re my family.”
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