US landslide sends 18 homes crashing
A landslide sent 18 multimillion-dollar houses crashing down a hill in Southern California, the United States, early Wednesday as homeowners alarmed by the sound of walls and pipes coming apart ran for their lives in their nightclothes. At least four people suffered minor injuries.
About 1,000 people in 350 other homes in the Blue Bird Canyon area were evacuated as a precaution.
In addition to the houses destroyed, several homes were damaged and a street was wrecked when the earth gave way around daybreak in this Orange County community about 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
Residents were alerted to the slide shortly before 7 a.m. by popping and cracking as power poles went down, homes fractured and trees disappeared. People grabbed their their children, pets and belongings and fled as streets buckled around them.
The cause of the disaster was under investigation. But Ed Harp of the U.S. Geological Survey said it was almost certainly related to the winter storms that drenched Southern California.
Laguna Beach has been dry since a trace of rainfall nearly a month ago, but before that, Southern California had its second-rainiest season on record. The region has gotten nearly 28 inches of rain since last July, more than double the annual average.
The slide occurred about a mile from the beach on steep sandstone hills covered with large homes.
Jill Lockhart, 35, fled with her sons, ages 2 and 4, after being awakened by the noise. "You could hear the homes breaking. You could hear the cracking wood," she said.
She said a teenage neighbor grabbed one her boys as she ran. They abandoned Flamingo Road and scrambled down the shrub- and dirt-covered hillside as the road began to buckle and plunged beneath their feet. Lockhart's two-story home was destroyed, she said.
"We had to run for our lives," she said. "I don't know how everyone got out alive."
Multistory homes came to rest at odd angles, some nearly intact and others splintered and trailing debris. One house, snapped in two, had an American flag fluttering from a balcony.
At the top of the hill, the foundations of several homes were left exposed, their corners jutting out with nothing underneath to support them. One road ended abruptly, with the edge of the pavement hanging over a tangle of debris scattered downhill.
Fifteen to 18 homes were believed to be total losses, police Capt. Danelle Adams said. About 20 others were "very tenuous," she said.
"There is still movement so I think that we are still in a danger zone," Adams said.
Sheriff's deputies went door-to-door to check for victims. Search-and-rescue crews were standing by.
Two children were admitted to a hospital in good condition, and two others were treated at the scene for minor injuries, authorities said. A 71-year-old woman whose house was destroyed was taken to the hospital, suffering what appeared to be the effects of stress.
Laguna Beach, offering vistas of the Pacific from coastal bluffs, has some of Southern California's most desirable real estate. The damaged homes generally sell for $2 million or more, residents said.
The neighborhoods have been hit before by flooding, mudslides and wildfire. In February 1998, a rainstorm triggered slides that damaged 300 homes, 18 of them severely, and killed two people. An October 1993 fire swept down into the city and destroyed some 400 homes. Most were rebuilt within a half-dozen years. And in October 1978, a slide in the same canyon destroyed 14 homes.
Last January, a landslide crashed down into the coastal community of La Conchita, in Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles, killing 10 people.
Laguna Beach's Pageant of the Masters ¡ª a festival in which famous artworks are recreated with live actors ¡ª has drawn crowds for decades. The community was prominently featured on the MTV show "Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County" that debuted in September, chronicling the lifestyle and love lives of local teens.