The winter sunshine and cool Pacific breeze has returned to Montecito. It somehow makes the devastation here all the more dramatic to see.

Under crystal clear blue skies, the grey, sucking mud still clings to whole sections of this idyllic coastal town.

Authorities say 400 family homes were destroyed or damaged in the mudslides. Some were simply wiped out, others shifted off their foundations.

"It looks like 10 bombs went off," one man told me.

Video:Mudslides: 100 homes destroyed

Few families have yet been able to return home. Neighbourhoods are crawling with rescue teams and utility crews.

The smell of natural gas hangs in the air as workmen try to reconnect power lines and police bark orders at passers-by. Even now, it is a chaotic scene.

We were in these very mountain communities just a few weeks ago as they fell victim to the ravages of wildfires.

Abadoned cars stuck in flooded water on the freeway after a mudslide in Montecito, California
Image:Montecito is counting the cost of the devastating mudslides

No matter how many times we see these scenes of devastation in hurricanes, tornadoes, fires or floods, the power of nature never ceases to amaze.

How mud, water and debris can shatter people's lives in a matter of seconds. How a house can just be taken away.

An aerial view from a Ventura County Sheriff helicopter shows a site damaged by mudslide in Montecito, California
Video:Wildfires and heavy rain triggered the mudslides

Natural disasters are not choosy as to whether they hit the rich or poor.

In wealthy places like Montecito though, the victims often have more options in times like these.

But there is something surreal about the perfectly manicured golf course greens on one side of the road and the apocalyptic moonscape of mud swallowing homes on the other.

We see again the fluky nature of who gets hit and who gets lucky. One house obliterated, its next door neighbour just fine.

The devastation caused by deadly mudslides in Montecito, California
Image:400 family homes were destroyed or damaged
Mud fills the interior of a car destroyed in a rain-driven mudslide in a neighbourhood under mandatory evacuation in Burbank, California, January 9, 2018
Image:The inside of a car struck by the mudslides

It is the peculiar geography of Santa Barbara area – steep mountains so close to the sea – that has made its air so popular to breathe.

It is that same geography that created the perfect conditions for such devastation when the rain – so desperately needed in Southern California – seemed to come all at once.

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Like every place hit by a natural disaster, the recovery will be long and slow. It is estimated the main water line to the town could be out of action for months.

But those who can rebuild know they are the lucky ones: they survived.

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