Sometime after midnight, a baby asleep on Donald Duck sheets was swept out of her house, out of her crib and into the night. That she was found at all is a miracle.
That she was alive is whatever is better than that.
Nine-month-old Tiffany Sarabia had ridden the wave of a mudslide that had killed two men early Tuesday, demolished three homes and a hillside that had stood for centuries in Laguna Beach, Calif. She landed against a shelter for cats, was seen by a man who had lost his glasses, handed to a stranger who handed her to a paramedic - who made sure she was breathing - then handed her to a woman who held her close.
The man who found her was tired and not ready for hero status. Gary Segraves, 51, had come to Laguna Canyon Road to rescue his daughter, Jenifer, who had been stranded in an earlier slide. Invited into the home of strangers, Segraves had decided to stay the night when the second slide knocked him from the home.
The water and debris slammed him into a building below the house. When Segraves stopped rolling, he realized he and the baby were sharing the same pile of rocks and twigs and living room furniture.
It had been collecting at the rear of a one-room shelter called the Bluebell Foundation for Cats.
Segraves had lost his glasses in the initial avalanche, and at first he thought the baby at his feet was a muddy doll.
“I pinched its fingers to see if it was alive,” he said.
He carried the 20-pound baby away from the mud and toward a man who was coming toward him.
Shaken, tired and hurt, Segraves handed the mud-swaddled baby to a stranger named Todd Tingley, also of Laguna Beach. The baby’s brown eyes were open. She looked up at Tingley. He spoke to her, telling her again and again that she was safe now.
Tingley took the baby and jogged toward the road.
Laguna Beach firefighter Frank Ybarra was waiting. On the first fire truck to make the scene, Ybarra took the child.
“I didn’t have one foot on the ground when they handed me a baby covered in mud,” he said. “She had mud packed in her mouth and nose. She was very cold and wet and she was not breathing.”
Ybarra lifted the infant onto the front seat of the fire truck and cleared her airway with a bulb syringe - five times, 10 times.
“She started moaning a little bit, and breathing,” Ybarra said. “She was living! I’ve got three kids, the youngest is 2. It’s just, I was so happy.”
That done, he cut her wet, filthy pajamas off her and wiped mud from her face. He cleaned her ear, and saw the gold hoops that told him it was a girl.
Teresa Sarabia, barely conscious, had been loaded onto an ambulance. When she awoke, she was frantic about her husband and three children.
“My baby! My baby!” she screamed.
Ybarra showed her his other passenger: a baby.
It was unmistakably hers.