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House Slides Down Saturated Sausalito Hillside; Woman Injured, 50 Homes Evacuated

SAUSALITO (CBS SF) -- A mudslide ripped through a hillside home in Sausalito early Thursday, slamming the duplex into a neighboring home, trapping a woman inside and forcing the evacuation of 50 other residences, authorities said.

Lisa Molbert was in the duplex down the hill as it was struck by the sliding home and debris. She said the sounds of the howling winds awoke her early Thursday.

"It sounded like a tornado kinda," she told KPIX 5. "Then I thought it was an earthquake. I can't replicate the sound."

The Bay Area was being pounded for a second day by a potent atmospheric river that has dumped several inches of rain across the region. A flash flood warning was in effect for Sausalito and the entire Bay Area.

The early Thursday morning twist to the storm were powerful winds ripping through the Bay Area. Gusts as a high as 70 mph have been recorded during the early morning hours. Thousands had lost power overnight due to toppled trees and power lines.

The wintry onslaught proved to be too much for a saturated hillside in the 400 block of Sausalito Boulevard on a picturesque hillside in Sausalito.

At about 3 a.m., a duplex slid off its foundation around 3 a.m. and hurtled down the hillside along with rocks, trees and mud into a second house in the 100 block of Crescent Ave.

"I got out of bed," Molbert said unaware of her home had been slid into. "I smelled tree and heard the creek. The I thought the door had been thrown open, but it was actually a tree busting through the kitchen window...It was a little scary."

"My upstairs neighbors, their whole staircase to their house is gone," she continued. "They had to go through their living room window onto my deck to get out. Right now, their cat is gone."

A woman -- identified by family members as Susan Gordon -- was on the second floor of the crumbling duplex and came down the hill with the home.

She ended up buried in debris and was freed by fire fighters. She was conscious and rushed to the hospital for treatment of her injuries.

"I really credit the rescue and the dogs for finding her as quickly as they did," said neighbor Frank Pacoe. "She was surrounded by mud."

She was later released after being treated for bumps, cuts and bruises. Gordon's cat, named Peach, remains missing.

Zachery Garza also lives in the neighborhood and was awaiting word of when he could return home at the evacuation center.

"It was unbelievable," he told KPIX 5. "To be so close to it (the slide) was incredible. We are just lucky to be alive and lucky our neighbor is okay...The sound was almost like two freight trains crashing together."

A football field size debris field roared about 75 feet down the hillside.

"I'd say it traveled about a block or half a block (downhill)," said Southern Marin County Fire Chief Chris Tubbs.

No one was injured in the second home. Police and firefighters were evaluating other homes in the neighborhood to see if they were also being threatened by the unstable hillside. There was also a gas leak that crews were able to cap.

"We got a gas leak, multiple power lines down," Tubbs said. "Until we have daylight it will be difficult for us to get a estimate. We have crews surrounding the area."

When the sun came up, KPIX 5 cameras got a chance to get a little closer to the massive pile of debris that was obviously once someone's home. Signs of life were visible in the wreckage.

A shirt still on its hanger could be seen along with a pile of clothes and a picture in a frame. A BMW parked in the driveway got crushed by the debris.

About 50 residents near the slide have been forced to leave their homes. Officials had no estimate when residents might be allowed back into the evacuated homes.

"There's an awful lot of unstable soil around the buildings," said a Sausalito Police Department spokesperson. "There's a significant amount of damage assessment to be done and, until we can do that, we really can't let people back in."

An evacuation center had been set up at Sausalito City Hall.

"We're expecting probably 15 to 18 clients," said Bill Eichhorn with the Marin County Red Cross. "You know, couples, single people; we had one family come in with a small baby."

Garza told KPIX 5 he was hopeful that the hillside would soon be settled enough to return home safely.

"Red Cross has been helping us out," he said. "A friend of ours is gonna let us stay with her. [We'll] try to get everything together, regroup, and assess what we're going to do moving forward."

Nearly 40,000 PG&E customers were without power as of early Thursday, but as of 3 p.m. that number had dropped to 17,732. More than 5,000 customers are affected by outages along the Peninsula as well as nearly 5,600 in the North Bay, more than 3,400 in the South Bay, 2,960 in San Francisco, and about 500 in the East Bay.

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