Landslide Stuns SoCal Enclave

Damaged homes are shown from Summit Drive looking north across Bluebird Canyon after a landslide in Laguna Beach, Calif. early Wednesday, June 1, 2005, A hillside, saturated by unusually heavy winter rains, gave way, destroying at least nine homes and damaging more than 15 others. (AP Photo/Los Angeles Times, Mark Boster). **MANDATORY CREDIT** AP Photo/L.A.Times, Mark Boster

Haley Stevens was getting ready for school when the 14-year-old's morning routine was shattered by the sounds of trees and wood-frame houses being torn from their foundation.

The next thing she knew, her family was rushing out the door as a massive landslide bore down on the neighborhood of hillside homes perched along one of the most picturesque sections of Southern California's coastline.

When they made it outside their Bluebird Canyon home, the ground was collapsing beneath them: "We started to feel the street move and we just started sprinting," she said.

Wednesday's landslide destroyed 17 multimillion-dollar houses as it sent structures crashing down a hill. Residents alarmed by the sound of walls and pipes coming apart ran for their lives — many still in their pajamas.

Five people suffered minor injuries, officials said. Eleven homes were damaged, and about 1,000 people in 350 other homes were evacuated as a precaution.

Miraculously, no one was killed.

"We were very scared, my brother and I. We were freaking out," said Stevens, who suffered a minor injury from stepping on a cactus in her bare feet.

One of the homes that was wiped out belonged to Lori Herek, who was able to make it to safety after hearing popping and cracking noises as she had a morning cup of coffee. After she went outside and saw that the land separating under her house, she ran back inside to wake her future son-in-law, Ryan Haskell, before fleeing.

"As we ran out of the house, I saw my curb actually separating from the street," Herek said on CBS News' The Early Show. "And as we ran to my next-door neighbor's house, within probably less than 60 seconds, I looked back over at my house and it had buckled and was sliding down the canyon."

"I thought it was hailing outside. I thought maybe she was joking with me," Haskell told Early Show co-anchor Gretchen Carlson. "I really didn't know what to think. It was just really, really scary."

"It was like something out of a movie," Haskell said. "Our only recourse was to run down the canyon as the houses were sliding around us."

Throughout the day, Laguna Hills High School doubled as a Red Cross evacuation center where residents filtered in and out of the school gym, hoping to learn when they might be allowed back into their homes to retrieve belongings and pets.

"It's just been overwhelming," said Vera Martinez, a 65-year-old retiree.

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. A geologist contracted by the city agreed the cause was most likely rainfall, but said more tests were needed.

Earlier this year, scientists warned that destructive landslides would be possible and they point to Laguna Beach as a wake-up call for other coastal communities to be on the lookout for any slight earth movement.

"We're not out of the woods yet," geologist Randall Jibson said.
  • Lloyd Vries

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