Storm-hit cliff crumbles, forcing evacuations

Crumbling Cliff
Part of this cliff in Pacifica, Calif., has given way, leaving just 10 feet between it and an apartment building. Jeff Chiu / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A crumbling cliff forced residents to grab what they could and flee an apartment building atop a Northern California coastal bluff over fears it could slide into the Pacific.

Building officials in Pacifica ordered residents out immediately Thursday morning as large chunks of cliff plunged into the ocean, leaving the 12-unit building just 10 feet from the edge of the wave-battered 50-foot bluff.

The evacuation order was issued after part of the cliff, saturated by recent storms, broke off around 5:30 a.m., chief building official Doug Rider said.

An initial evacuation deadline of 5 p.m. was moved up as the cliff continued to crumble. About 20 frantic residents were packing up what belongings they could.

Building manager Randall Nelson, a 14-year resident, told the San Francisco Chronicle he would be moving in with his in-laws.

"We live here because we love the ocean, but nothing lasts forever," he said.

Two nearby buildings also were being monitored but remained stable for the time being, thanks to a wave-deflecting barrier of boulders at the bottom of the bluff, Rider said.

The barrier was erected last spring but did not protect the entire beach. The cliff began crumbling before the barrier could be completed.

The erosion of the bluff's sandy soils is a natural occurrence exacerbated by the region's wet winters. Officials had been monitoring the buildings since recent heavy rains.