Oceanfront homes crumble in California as torrential rains lead to landslides

Intense storms highlight fragility of the state’s infrastructure, with 35 of 58 counties now under an emergency declaration

About two dozen people in southern California were forced to flee from their oceanside apartment buildings, as the hill beneath them started to crumble in torrential rains.

With more rainstorms coming, authorities in San Clemente said on Thursday there was no timetable for the residents to be allowed back into their homes.

“The ground is continuing to move,” San Clemente’s mayor, Chris Duncan, said during a news conference. “So these structures are still in peril.”

Across California, residents have been reeling from the effect of extreme weather, with a large portion of the state now covered by a presidential emergency declaration. California has been hit with 11 atmospheric rivers in a virtually nonstop series that has sparked floods and landslides, toppled trees, stranded mountain dwellers in historically deep snow and downed power lines, leaving thousands without electricity.

Residents were evacuated from homes overlooking the Pacific Ocean coastline on Buena Vista due to the landslide.
Residents were evacuated from homes overlooking the Pacific Ocean coastline on Buena Vista due to the landslide. Photograph: Patrick T Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

The intense storms are highlighting the fragility of some of the state’s infrastructure. In Pajaro, a town on California’s central coast, residents had to evacuate in the middle of the night as an ageing levee broke, allowing river water to engulf their town. The problems with the levee, which had failed before, leaving two people dead and $95m in damage, were well known. Some southern California beaches were closed as heavy rain overwhelmed sewage systems and sent thousands of gallons of raw sewage to the sea.

Coastal Orange county has seen multiple crises. In the city of La Habra, news reports said a sinkhole about 30ft (9 meters) deep opened up on Wednesday night next to another sinkhole that opened up in 2019 after heavy rain. Repairs to the earlier hole have yet to be completed.

In San Clemente, three clifftop apartment buildings and one nearby building were red-tagged and evacuated on Wednesday when the land began to shift and slide away from their backyards down a hillside following torrential rains.

Floodwaters from the Pajaro River inundate residents after days of heavy rain.
Floodwaters from the Pajaro River inundate residents after days of heavy rain. Photograph: David Swanson/Reuters

Twenty to 30 residents were evacuated. Some were briefly allowed back home on Thursday to move out their belongings.

The National Weather Service said heavy rain could hit southern California again early next week.

Orange county was added to a presidential emergency declaration for areas hard-hit by natural disasters. About 35 out of 58 California counties are now covered by the declaration, which authorizes federal assistance to help state and local governments deal with a series of fierce winter storms.

The Associated Press contributed reporting

Staff and agencies

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