Landslide in Laguna Beach, Calif., sends homes crashing down hill

The wreckage of homes which slid down and off their foundations early Wednesday, June 1, 2005, in Laguna Beach, Calif. A landslide sent at least nine million dollar homes crashing down a hill early Wednesday and damaged as many as 20 others in this coastal Orange County enclave. At least three people were taken to a hospital for minor injuries, officials said.

AP Photo/Orange County Register, Daniel A. Anderso
Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 1:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 1:23 p.m.

A landslide sent at least 12 expensive homes crashing down a hill early Wednesday and damaged 15 others in this coastal Orange County enclave.

At least three people were taken to a hospital for minor injuries, officials said. Crews were apparently able to evacuate most of the residents before the earth gave way.

"The pipes started making funny noises and the toilet sounded like it was about to explode," Carrie Joyce, a fire department office manager who lives in the neighborhood, some 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

"I could see one house, huge, we call it the mausoleum, 5,000 square feet or more. It had buckled, the retaining wall in the front of it was cracked. It just looked like the whole house was going," she said.

Laguna Beach, its shoreline dotted with coves and tide pools, has some of Southern California's most desired real estate, but it has also grappled with fires and mudslides over the years. Wednesday's slide came on the heels of a near-record winter rainy season.

The damaged homes, located in an area called Blue Bird Canyon about 15 blocks from the ocean, are worth about $1.75 million, which the mayor described as "average" for the area.

Twelve homes were lost and 15 damaged, Mayor Elizabeth Pearson-Schneider said. Forty more homes were evacuated.

Multistory homes came to rest at odd angles, some nearly intact, others broken apart and trailing debris. Around the edges of the gash at the top of the hill, several homes jutted out with no earth below parts of their foundations.

One house, snapped in two, had an American flag fluttering from a balcony. One road simply stopped in midair, beneath it a tangle of debris. Trees, cars and roadway also spilled down.

"We believe we evacuated the people who could be in harm's way," Pearson-Schneider told KTTV.

"My understanding is that we received a phone call from a couple that began feeling slippage. They were quite upset, as you could imagine, and we just told them to get out," he said. People began reporting problems around 5 a.m. and the hillside gave way between 6 and 7 a.m.

One man, clutching his cat, told KABC-TV his home looked "like it buckled in the middle and broke in half. We ran from the house. It started coming down."

Two injured children were admitted to South Coast Medical Center in Laguna Beach in good condition, hospital spokeswoman Maggie Baumann said. A third person there, a 71-year-old woman whose house was destroyed, wasn't injured in the landslide but appeared to be under emotional stress, she said.

The neighborhoods have been hit before by flooding, mudslides and wildfire. Several homes were red-tagged as uninhabitable in February during the second rainiest season on record in Southern California.

In February 1998, a rainstorm triggered slides that damaged 300 homes, 18 of them seriously. Two people were killed. An October 1993 fire swept down into the city and destroyed some 400 homes. Most were rebuilt within a half-dozen years.

The city's Pageant of the Masters _ a festival in which famous artworks are recreated with live actors _ has drawn crowds for decades, reinforcing the town's reputation as an art colony.

The community was prominently featured on the MTV hit reality show "Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County" that debuted in September. The show chronicled the lifestyle and love lives of teenagers there.

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