LOS ANGELES — When a torrent of mud crashed through Mari Mitchel's bedroom in Southern California three months ago, it carried away everything from massive pieces of antique family furniture to a tiny pouch that held her wedding and engagement rings and a beloved pendant.
As the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, Mitchel had nearly lost all hope she would ever see her most treasured jewelry again.
But on April 3, the 65-year-old Mitchel got what she calls her "tiny miracle." The pouch filled with her jewelry was plucked from a 6-foot (2-meter) pile of mud down the street from her house.
"My knees were shaking, and I was oh-my-goshing and jumping up and down," Mitchel said. "I cried tears of joy, disbelief and thorough happiness."
Months after the Jan. 9 mudslides killed at least 21 people and nearly wiped the small community of Montecito off the map, those who survived are still looking for and finding their belongings in the deep and hardened sludge. They lost loved ones, neighbors and houses in the catastrophe, which still looks like it happened yesterday. Two children remain missing.
Through the shock and the misery, a Facebook page called Montecito Disaster Lost & Found has become a ray of hope for many, a tiny bit of good amid a whole lot of heartache. Started a couple of days after the tragedy, the page has connected hundreds of lost items with their owners — everything from old family photos and wedding veils to a 400-pound (180-kilogram) hippo statue.
Items still unclaimed on the site include signed NFL helmets, a WWII canteen, a trumpet, an intact teacup and a wedding photo from the early 1900s.
Last week, Santa Barbara resident Sarah Eglin made one of the more incredible finds as she walked along a Montecito trail with her children. It was a zipped-up bag covered in mud, with just a touch of lace sticking out. It turned out to be a wedding veil and the underskirt of a wedding dress.
Eglin posted the find on the Facebook page and two days later, Montecito resident Karen MacDonald responded that they were hers; they had been swept away along with MacDonald's entire house.
"The thing that's surprising is it's been three months since the catastrophe, and you wouldn't expect stuff to still be turning up," said the 63-year-old MacDonald, who wore the veil and underskirt at her wedding 35 years ago.
They had been packed away ever since, perhaps waiting for the day when one of her two daughters decided to marry. The veil and underskirt are among only a handful of items the family has recovered.
"We treasure and we take comfort in what we've got because we lost so much," MacDonald said. "It offers some consolation."
Santa Barbara resident Amanda Hockham found a massive hippo statue in February while volunteering with a group called the Bucket Brigade, which helps clear mud from people's homes.
The hippo was missing one leg, lying on its side and caked in mud.
Hockham immediately took to the Facebook page: "Anyone missing a hippo?" she posted.
Soon enough, the 55-year-old Hockham connected with the owner, who had been desperate to find the statue. It had sentimental value because it was a gift to her late husband.
Using heavy equipment and a hoist, volunteers rescued the hippo, cleaned it with a power washer, and fitted it with a stump as a prosthetic leg — nearly completely restoring the statue to its former glory.