Fri, Jun 03, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Landslide destroys expensive houses in California


A landslide sent 18 multi-million-dollar houses crashing down a hill in Southern California as homeowners alarmed by the sound of walls and pipes coming apart ran for their lives in their pajamas. 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 early Wednesday.

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 81km southeast of Los Angeles.

Residents were alerted to the slide shortly before 7am by popping and cracking as power poles went down, homes fractured and trees disappeared.

People grabbed their children, pets and belongings and fled as streets buckled around them.

"People were running down the hill like a bomb had gone off. I mean literally, they had their bed clothes on," said Robert Pompeo, 56, a retiree whose home is about 75 yards from the ridge where the most homes were lost.

The cause of the disaster was under investigation.

But Ed Harp of the US 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 71cm of rain since last July, more than double the annual average.

The slide occurred about 1.6km from the beach on steep sandstone hills covered with large homes.

"The pipes started making funny noises and the toilet sounded like it was about to explode," said Carrie Joyce, one of those who fled. "I could see one house, huge, we call it `the mausoleum,' 5,000ft2 [465m2) or more. It had buckled, the retaining wall in the front of it was cracked. It just looked like the whole house was going."

Jill Lockhart, 35, was awakened by the noise of shattering glass and walls. Barefoot and in shorts, Lockhart fled with her son Tyson, 2, over her shoulder and Trey, 4, stumbling along in his pajamas.

They got into the family SUV, but a phone pole crashed on it, forcing them to the road. A teenage neighbor grabbed one child from her.

They abandoned Flamingo Road as it buckled and plunged beneath them. They scrambled down the shrub and dirt-covered hillside. Lockhart's two-story home was destroyed.

"We had to run for our lives," she said. "I don't know how everyone got out alive."

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