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Multiple California homes and the land they were built on slid down into a canyon


About a dozen homes near the Los Angeles County coast are being torn apart as they slip down a canyon in a slow-motion landslide. One resident says he had just a few minutes to evacuate.

WEBER HAHN: I had to jam, like, a lifetime of memory into two suitcases.

MARTÍNEZ: It's not a matter of if the homes will fall, but how far. The ground under these hilltop homes in Rolling Hills Estates started moving over the weekend. The cause of the landslide's still under investigation. Joining us now is LA Times reporter Grace Toohey, who's covering the story and has been out to the site. Grace, can you start by just describing what the scene looks like there?

GRACE TOOHEY: Yeah. So there are 12 homes there that have been evacuated, and they sit atop of this canyon in Rolling Hills Estates. And, really, it's shocking to see just how quickly these homes have fallen. You know, they used to sit right along the road there. But now when you look out along the road, a lot of them, you only see their roof. You see massive cracks in these homes that are exposing pipes and beams. Garage doors have been flattened, and a lot of the roofs have collapsed. And what's scary is that the ground is still moving, officials say. So even neighbors who maybe haven't lost their homes are worried about how much more damage still could come.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, and this is a pricey neighborhood, Rolling Hills Estates. So we're talking millions and millions of dollars in damage. Any word on the potential cause for the landslide?

TOOHEY: Yeah, so we have no confirmed cause yet. As I said, it's still moving. So that's still something that they're kind of waiting to settle to really get that investigation going. There is some speculation about what might have caused this. Some city officials have said it could have been from, you know, these really wet winter storms that we had and kind of build-up groundwater that might have destabilized the slope. But we're not sure yet.

MARTÍNEZ: So no one can really get in then, as you said, because it might still move. So no one can really stand there and kind of figure out what happened.

TOOHEY: Exactly. So they're kind of waiting right now. They're in this waiting game, trying to make sure that the ground actually stops moving before the geologist or the soil experts can get in there to actually try and figure out what might have caused this and how to stop it.

MARTÍNEZ: You've been talking to some of the people who've lost their homes. What are they telling you?

TOOHEY: Yeah. So it's been an emotional, you know, few days for them. This really started on Saturday. You know, some people are trying to keep it in perspective, and they're really grateful they got out because this did happen so quickly. And something to note is, you know, no one has been injured. Everyone did get out safe at this point. But a lot of people are really devastated. You know, they're seeing their homes kind of slide down this canyon wall that they've looked out on for so long. I talked to one man. His name is Weber Hahn (ph), and he and his family have lived there for 10 years. And now his home is really gone, and he wants to know what happened.

HAHN: I'm feeling sad and confused and angry - angry. Angry that no one had told us earlier about this. This is pretty significant seismic movement and someone should have told me about this.

MARTÍNEZ: Grace, what can you tell us about the history of landslides in this area? Is this something new, or is this something that has been a threat or a danger for these people for a while now?

TOOHEY: Yeah. So this specific area, we're not sure exactly, you know, if this was necessarily prone to landfalls. But the whole peninsula, this Palos Verdes Peninsula, is definitely somewhere that has had a lot of landslides. There was a big landslide in this actual city in the late '90s. And there's a nearby neighborhood that's been battling this slowly shifting landslide since the 1950s. So it's an ongoing issue for this whole region.

MARTÍNEZ: LA Times reporter Grace Toohey. Grace, thank you very much.

TOOHEY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF WANG WEN'S "MAIL FROM THE RIVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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