A dozen hilltop homes in one of the wealthiest areas of coastal Los Angeles County collapsed into a canyon Monday after a weekend landslide forced the evacuation of a neighborhood in the Rolling Hills Estates community.

Local officials said about 16 people were evacuated late Saturday after fire officials responding to a call about a leaking pipe discovered “significant earth movement” on Peartree Lane on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. California’s disastrously wet winter may be to blame for saturating the underlying soils in the neighborhood, a danger that has threatened in recent months. another idyllic resting places in the state.

After crews found cracks and other damage to homes on the block, authorities said, residents were given 20 minutes to pack up and leave. Gradually, and then quickly, the properties began to swell. By Monday afternoon, a stretch of more than $1 million townhouses that once stood high on a cliff had slid almost to street level, their beige stucco walls slanted and broken, their living spaces reduced to gaping holes framed by wooden beams.

Behind yellow caution tape, utility crews inspected electricity, cable and gas lines. Periodically, a sickening crash and noise of something cracking or falling would interrupt the tranquility of the neighborhood.

“It’s the most shocking thing I’ve ever seen, and my heart goes out to these people,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who represents the area, said at a news conference Monday. “You can actually hear the snapping, cracking and popping every minute you’re there because every home is moving and moving – decks are falling off, some of the roofs are now eye level with the ground.”

Ms. Hahn said the cause of the landslide is being investigated, but that the “initial thinking” is that the disaster may be related to the procession of storms that have flooded California this winter, isolating tourist destinations, emptying wealthy enclaves, flooding farm towns and blanketing the Sierra Nevada with near-record snowpack.

Spectacularly scenic, with emerald hills and sweeping views of the Pacific, the Palos Verdes Peninsula has a soil composition that, in some places, has made it. historically prone to landslidesespecially after wet winters when stormwater percolates and destabilizes soil layers far underground.

Alexa Davis, the assistant city manager of Rolling Hills Estates, a community of about 8,300 people, said in an email that the development around Peartree Lane, which was planned and built in the 1970s, is not located in either part of the peninsula. . known as geologically vulnerable. Some nearby areas are so unstable and riddled with sinkholes that even sewer lines had to be located above ground.

“There have been no problems associated with this hillside reported to the city in its 45 years,” Ms. Davis said.

However, Ms. Hahn noted at the press conference that “there is a crack that snakes through these 10 homes that you can actually see, and they believe that’s what’s causing the earth to pull back and drag these homes along with it into the canyon. ” She added that the area is expected to undergo a full examination by soil experts and engineers.

At the top of the street, Gerry Wiegert, 29, helped his mother and stepfather pack their belongings into a black SUV. Next to their two-story duplex, a garage collapsed, its door wedged between its tile roof and driveway.

“We’re kind of next, if you think about it,” said Mr. Wiegert, whose family has rented the three-bedroom home for a decade.

They moved to the gated neighborhood in Rolling Hills Estates because it felt like a quiet haven, one with an ocean breeze. It was the kind of place where children played with each other, but residents also enjoyed their privacy.

What may have saved Mr. Wiegert’s home was that it had an extra room in the backyard in front of the drain to the valley below — a space some of their neighbors didn’t have. Erosion has been a frequently discussed problem in the area for a while.

“Cracks have formed here and there,” he said of houses in the neighborhood. “There used to be a trail that existed behind our homes, now it’s just sunk.”

The past few days had been frustrating, with little help from his master, he said. The neighbors in their shared duplex moved out over the weekend. Mr. Wiegert’s family felt that leaving might be the only solution.

So on Monday morning, Mr. Wiegert, who works in accounting, rented a storage unit and took moving boxes. Together with his mother and stepfather, he began to collect documents, jewelry and memorabilia. Mr. Wiegert wanted to be sure to take pictures of himself with his namesake: his late father who was also the creator of the Vector supercar.

“I joked about the situation and then as I was packing, depression started to hit,” he said. “Hard to say where we’ll go next.”

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