Landslide Destroys California Dream Homes

Millions of dollars worth of homes have been destroyed in a Southern California landslide. Another 20 homes are said to be in danger in the wealthy coastal community of Laguna Beach, about 50 miles south of Los Angeles. Experts say this is almost certainly the result of the drenching rains of earlier this winter.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

There's been a big landslide in Southern California; at least 15 homes have been destroyed. It happened in the wealthy coastal community of Laguna Beach south of Los Angeles.

BLOCK: At least 20 other homes were damaged and hundreds of people have been evacuated from the neighborhood. Rob Schmitz with member station KPCC is in Laguna Beach.

And, Rob, can you describe the scene there for us?

ROB SCHMITZ reporting:

Well, I was just up there. I'm down near the beach now. But up on the hillside, there are 15 houses that have been either destroyed or badly damaged on a very steep hillside. You know, some have lost half a house, some have kind of sunken into the slide or are tilted backwards; windows are looking up into the sky. One house was stubbornly kind of sticking to the cliff while half of its floor had fallen about 20 or 30 feet below. It's literally a neighborhood that has fallen down a hillside.

BLOCK: And what have you learned about any injuries?

SCHMITZ: Well, actually, miraculously, only two people were injured, and those were minor injuries that have been treated and they've gotten out of the hospital. So really, actually, no one has died in this landslide, which is incredible.

BLOCK: Did residents say they had any warning that these landslides were coming?

SCHMITZ: Well, I think residents that I've spoken to who live in this area and who live around the area that was affected, they say that, you know, living--you know, landslides are really a big part of life in Laguna Beach. A lot of Laguna Beach is built on steep hillsides, and they know that they are living in a landslide zone. So it's all part of that.

You know, this morning, they woke up at around 6, 6:30 with the sounds of popping and cracking electrical lines being shifted around from the moving earth, and that's how a lot of people were alerted to this.

BLOCK: And we mentioned hundreds of people have been evacuated. It sounds like they're still concerned about further landslides.

SCHMITZ: That's right. And they're not sure if this landslide is fully stable yet, and the geologists are up their now looking at that. I mean, the gas lines haven't even been turned off yet. I was walking past one house and the gas was actually, you know, rushing out of a broken pipe. So, yeah, a lot of--there's still a lot of chaos on the scene and residents are watching, you know, crews pick up everything.

BLOCK: Tell us a bit about this community.

SCHMITZ: Well, Laguna Beach is probably one of the wealthiest towns in Southern California, if not one of the wealthiest towns in the nation. I mean, it's full of multimillion-dollar mansions. The population is around 24,000. That's not a lot of people when you look at where it is; it's in the LA metro area. So it's not a big place, but it's full of very wealthy, wealthy residents.

BLOCK: Los Angeles had a very rainy winter. Those rains ended quite a while ago. Do experts know why these landslides would have happened now?

SCHMITZ: Well, I mean, I think the obvious conclusion that everyone has made so far--they're not sure about this, but of course, is that we've had a very wet winter. And as everyone knows, it's been very rainy here. And they think that this area was located on what is called an ancient landslide area. That means tens of thousands of years ago, a large landslide occurred at this area, and there's a lot of clay built up. And when clay gets very wet, it becomes like grease and it slides down. And it took this long for the rain and the water to get to that level in the earth.

BLOCK: Rob, very briefly, when there was a mudslide earlier this year, a lot of people said they would go back even though a number of people were killed. Are you hearing the same thing from folks in Laguna Beach?

SCHMITZ: Well, actually, right now--I mean, a lot of people say that they will probably go back after everything is evacuated. But you know, up to now, I mean, it's difficult.

BLOCK: Rob, thanks so much.

SCHMITZ: Thank you.

BLOCK: Rob Schmitz of member station KPCC in Laguna Beach, California.

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