A dozen hilltop homes in one of Los Angeles County’s most prosperous coastal areas were collapsing into a canyon Monday after a mudslide over the weekend forced the evacuation of a neighborhood in the Rolling Hills Estates community.
Local authorities said about 16 people were evacuated Saturday night after firefighters responding to a call about a leaking pipe discovered “significant earth movement” on Peartree Lane on the Palos Verdes peninsula. California’s disastrously wet winter may be to blame for saturating the underlying soils in the neighborhood, a danger that in recent months has threatened other idyllic hangers in the state.
After crews found cracks and other damage to homes on the block, authorities said, residents were given 20 minutes to pack up and leave. Gradually, and then rapidly, the properties began to give way. By Monday afternoon, a tract of million-dollar-plus rowhomes that once stood atop a cliff had collapsed almost to street level, their beige stucco walls leaning and broken, their living areas were reduced to open holes framed by wooden beams.
Behind the yellow caution tape, utility crews inspected power, cable and gas lines. Periodically, a sickening crash and the crash of something cracking or falling would disrupt the quiet of the neighborhood.
“It’s the most shocking thing I’ve ever seen, and my heart goes out to these people,” Janice Hahn, a Los Angeles County supervisor who represents the area, said at a Monday news conference. “In fact, you can hear the snap, creak, and pop every minute when you’re there, as every house moves and shifts: decks are falling off, some of the roofs are now eye level with the ground. ”.
Ms Hahn said the cause of the landslide is being investigated, but “initial thinking” is that the disaster may be related to a succession of storms that inundated California this winter, isolating tourist destinations, emptying wealthy enclaves, inundating farming towns and blanketing the Sierra Nevada with near-record snow cover.
Spectacularly scenic, with emerald hills and expansive views of the Pacific Ocean, the Palos Verdes Peninsula has a soil composition that, in some areas, has made it historically prone to landslidesparticularly after wet winters, as stormwater seeps in and destabilizes the soil layers deep below the ground.
Alexa Davis, deputy city manager for Rolling Hills Estates, a community of about 8,300 people, said in an email that the development around Peartree Lane, which was planned and built in the 1970s, is not located on any of parts of the peninsula. It is known to be geologically vulnerable. Some nearby areas are so unstable and traversed by sinkholes that even sewer lines have had to be located above ground.
“There have been no issues associated with this hillside reported to the city in its 45 years,” Ms. Davis said.
However, Ms Hahn noted at the press conference that “there is a fissure that snakes through these 10 houses that you can actually see, and they think that is what is causing the earth to move away and drag these houses with her towards the canyon. She ”she added that the area was expected to undergo a full examination by engineers and soil experts.
At the top of the street, Gerry Wiegert, 29, helped his mother and stepfather pack their belongings into a black van. Next to her two-story duplex, a garage had collapsed, his door wedged between the tiled roof and the driveway.
“We’re next, if you think about it,” said Wiegert, whose family has rented the three-bedroom house for a decade.
They had moved to the gated neighborhood in Rolling Hills Estates because it felt like a quiet refuge, one with an ocean breeze. It was the kind of place where children played with each other, but the residents also enjoyed their privacy.
What may have saved Mr. Wiegert’s house was that he had extra space in the backyard before the drop-off into the valley below, space that some of his neighbors did not. Erosion has been a commonly discussed problem in the area for a while.
“Cracks were forming here and there,” he said of the houses in the neighborhood. “There used to be a trail that existed behind our houses, now it’s just vanished.”
The past few days have been frustrating, with little help from her landlord, she said. The neighbors in your shared duplex moved out over the weekend. Mr. Wiegert’s family had a feeling that leaving might be the only solution.
So, on Monday morning, Mr. Wiegert, who works in accounting, rented a storage unit and picked up moving boxes. Together with his mother and his stepfather, he began to collect documents, jewelry, and memorabilia. Mr. Wiegert wanted to make sure to take photos of himself with his namesake: his late father, who was also the creator of the Vector supercar.
“I was joking about the situation and then as I was packing up the depression started to hit,” he said. “It’s hard to say where we’re going now.”