California Saturated Again. Then, 'a Big Old Crunch'

Residents made to evacuate oceanfront homes in San Clemente after moisture-induced landslide
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 17, 2023 11:09 AM CDT
California Saturated Again. Then, 'a Big Old Crunch'
Cliffside homes in San Clemente, California, are seen on Wednesday.   (Orange County Fire Authority via AP)

The California city of San Clemente was hit by a landslide this week after heavy rains, an event that tore away at cliffsides, oceanfront decks, and pieces of patio and forced the evacuation of several apartment buildings perched on the edge of those cliffs. The San Clemente Times reports that residents of four complexes along Buena Vista, near Dije Court Beach, were evacuated by firefighters Wednesday morning, and the buildings were yellow-tagged, meaning residents could still access their units if needed. However, those tags were upgraded later that day from yellow to red, meaning no one is permitted back in the buildings until further notice, as officials fear the earth may still be shifting. "It's still moving, even last night," San Clemente Mayor Chris Duncan said Thursday, per CBS News.

Duncan noted a hole had opened up underneath the apartment buildings' patios that was expected to grow, creating "a great risk of instability." He added further assessment could take weeks: "This is gonna be a longer project than we had hoped." Locals are now recalling the Wednesday morning landslide. "There was a big old crunch, a banging noise, and rumbling. Almost an explosion or something," a San Juan Capistrano resident tells the San Clemente Times of what his son, one of the evacuees, heard during the event. "I heard a noise and felt the building kind of shake a bit," another resident tells the Los Angeles Times, adding that when he took a peek outside his apartment, the hillside in back of a unit next door had disappeared.

Orange County, and more than three dozen other counties, are now included under a state of emergency declaration put in place by Gov. Gavin Newsom after torrential rains soaked the ground. A federal emergency has also been declared for the area. The next few days are expected to be drier, per the National Weather Service, but rain is in the forecast again for next week, and some fear that could lead to more trouble. "Anyone along this stretch in particular should be vigilant and be prepared to potentially evacuate," Duncan said. The recent events aren't instilling confidence in locals. "When the landslide happened, we both looked at each other and said, 'This could be the end of California for us,'" one resident tells the LAT of his conversation with his girlfriend as they evacuated. (More landslide stories.)

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