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Hill Shifts, Threatening More Homes Tons Of Earth Have Loomed Over Coastal Town For Decades


A soggy hillside that collapsed on part of a seaside hamlet in a wave of mud and rock shifted Sunday and threatened more homes as rain pelted the region.

Tons of earth that have loomed menacingly over homes for decades broke loose Saturday, destroying or damaging nine houses and forcing dozens of evacuations. No one was injured and no one was reported missing.

The slide created a massive crater in the hill, which filled with water from heavy rains Saturday and Sunday, said Ventura County sheriff’s officials.

“The water is adding weight to the mud that’s already unstable on the hill,” said Senior Deputy Chuck Buttell. “It has the potential to be really ugly.”

He said up to 25 additional houses were threatened in the town of about 700 people.

More than 100 residents were barred from returning to their homes. The low rumble of sliding earth sent some of them running for their lives Saturday.

“The mud was stopping right at the top of my trailer,” Silva Gutierrez said. “We just took off running. It took the whole house, everything. Everything is just gone.”

Norma Harrell had watched the slope crash onto a street.

“There was a big roar, and it moved like soft Jell-O,” she said. “It was pretty fast, but I never dreamed it would take those houses.”

The hillside continued to shift Sunday but no other large slides were reported, Buttell said. Geologists flew over the area in a helicopter to examine a large fissure in the hill.

The National Weather Service posted a flash flood watch for the area as moderate to heavy rainfall was expected.

The town, 75 miles northwest of Los Angeles, had been warned for weeks that a major slide was imminent. Many had already moved their valuables.

Geologists said the steep slopes have been slipping for 23,000 years. Landslides have destroyed property at least twice this century in the area.

It was all too much for plumber George Caputo, who walked around in a daze as he surveyed the remnants of his buried, $500,000 house.

Asked where he would go, he said, “Disneyland.”

“There’s no place I want to go. I don’t want to live in Malibu. I don’t want to live in Montecito. I want to live here,” Caputo said.

Tags: landslide

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