California mudslides: Residents of Montecito 'paradise' in 'state of shock'

Greg Milam, US Correspondent in Montecito

Ever since the mudslides struck, the residents of the Casa Dorinda retirement complex in Montecito have been trapped in their homes.

Roads to the outside world were blocked by banks of thick mud.

On Thursday morning, for the first time, they were able to emerge, blinking in the blazing sunshine, to see what had happened to the rest of their neighbourhood.

Not much of what is left on the other side of Hot Springs Road is habitable. House after house is either badly damaged or swept away completely.

"We're in a state of shock to see this. Beautiful, beautiful Santa Barbara. We thought we were living in paradise," Casa Dorinda resident Sally Barden told us.

"The thought of the people who were in their house sleeping, and the house going down the stream and they lost their lives. What would that be like?"

For many of her elderly neighbours, the stress of what they were seeing appeared to be too much and they retreated to their homes.

They have no electricity and, like all of Montecito, could be without mains water for months. But they are alive.

Just down the street, there is a reminder of those who were not so lucky - urban search and rescue teams poke through the thick mud looking for those still missing.

Around them the surreal detritus of a natural disaster. A septic tank wrapped around a tree, a light switch in the middle of the road, a toy horse and a front door key on a wall.

It will take weeks to just remove the tons of mud, rubble and dirt. Emergency workers talk of a patch of debris "the size of a football field" a short distance away in one of the most inaccessible areas.

The area around Hot Springs Road is not yet considered safe enough for residents to return to see the damage for themselves.

Many of them will find the place they called home simply does not exist anymore.