Video: Did leaky water mains cause a landslide? staff and news service reports
updated 10/3/2007 9:14:38 PM ET 2007-10-04T01:14:38

A landslide swept away a chunk of an upscale hilltop neighborhood Wednesday, opening up a 50-yard chasm in a four-lane road, damaging or destroying nine homes and forcing the evacuations of 111 houses.

No one was hurt in the collapse, which occurred the morning after city officials warned residents of four homes in the La Jolla neighborhood not to sleep in them because the land might give way.

The collapse shortly before 9 a.m. toppled power lines and left a 15-foot-deep ravine of crumpled pavement. Orange traffic cones and sections of big concrete pipes sat in the fissure slashing across the wide boulevard.

Holli Weld was walking her son to preschool when the street collapsed.

“It was sinking as I was walking by,” she said. “The street was sinking before our eyes.”

Authorities said most residents had gone to work and only seven people were inside the homes when the collapse occurred.

The landslide cut a cone shape through the neighborhood of million-dollar homes, said Robert Hawk, a city engineering geologist. One home was destroyed, eight others were damaged and two more were in danger, but the problems appeared to be contained.

“It is fairly well-defined and localized,” Hawk said.

Electricity was initially cut off to 2,400 customers but restored to 2,000 within two hours, according to San Diego Gas & Electric Co. Gas was cut off to about a dozen customers.

By early evening, authorities had escorted 49 people out of 55 homes, said Maurice Luque, a spokesman for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

Official warn residents about land
A firm hired by the city last month was in the area this week after a large section of slope on Mount Soledad began to slip, Hawk said. The city began noticing cracks on Soledad Mountain Road in July and water and gas main breaks in August.

One neighbor told MSNBC-TV that two water-main breaks had occurred in that immediate area during the last month, and utility crews had been there Wednesday morning before the landslide.

A city engineer later told reporters that the water lines in that area had been moved above ground recently so as to prevent water from saturating the ground. That fact, he said, suggests the slide was due to geological factors, not the water mains.

Officials first became concerned about a landslide three or four weeks ago.

The city sent warning letters to residents Monday and Tuesday, and the outside firm hired by the city recommended Tuesday that four homes be evacuated, Hawk said.

At least three significant hill slides have occurred in the area between 1961 and 1994, including a major failure in 1961 that destroyed seven homes under construction.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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