LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. – Jill Lockhart’s nightmare began when she woke up to the sounds of her neighborhood falling apart – wood cracking, glass shattering and jackhammer-like noises she could not identify.

She pulled on a pair of shorts lying near the bed, grabbed her 2-year-old and threw him over her shoulder, then ran upstairs to get her 4-year-old.

“I said, ‘Let’s go, we have to get out of the house, the house is moving.”

As they ran outside, she saw the homes around her slipping away because of a landslide that destroyed 18 homes in her neighborhood of multimillion-dollar homes. Another 20 were in danger and authorities would soon evacuate 1,000 people from the hillside. At least four people suffered minor injuries.

“You could hear the homes breaking. You could hear the cracking wood,” she said.

Barefoot and holding onto Tyson, 2, and Trey, 4, for dear life, she stumbled to the family SUV in the driveway and got in, but a phone pole came crashing down onto the car, she said.

‘Our whole lives’

She got the kids out and took off on Flamingo Road. “It was horrible. It was like a nightmare,” the 35-year-old mother said. The pavement was “shifting up and down” and then the road went nowhere, sheared off.

A passing teenager grabbed her older son and together they scrambled down the scrub-covered hillside to safety.

Her two-story home was destroyed.

“I don’t know how everyone got out alive,” she said at the bottom of the hill. “My cat’s still up there, our whole lives, everything.”

A friend gave her shoes, socks, a sweatshirt and a hat in the morning fog. Her husband, Bobby, a surfwear salesman, rushed home from work to find his home gone but his family safe.

The sounds started before 7 a.m. as power poles went down, homes fractured, trees disappeared and tons of ground gave way.

“People were running down the hill like a bomb had gone off. I mean literally, they had their bed clothes on,” said Robert Pompeo, 56, a retiree whose home is about 75 yards from the ridge where the most homes were lost.

Those admitted to South Coast Medical Center in Laguna Beach included two children in good condition, hospital spokeswoman Maggie Baumann said. Police Capt. Danelle Adams said two people were treated at the scene for minor injuries.

The cause of the disaster was under investigation. But Ed Harp of the U.S. Geological Survey said it was almost certainly related to the winter storms that drenched Southern California.

Laguna Beach has been dry since a trace of rainfall nearly a month ago, but before that, Southern California had its second-rainiest season on record. The region has gotten nearly 28 inches of rain since last July, more than double the annual average.

Early estimates were that 15 to 18 homes were so badly damaged that they were considered “a total loss,” police Capt. Danelle Adams said.

“Approximately 20 more are very tenuous,” she said. Mayor Elizabeth Pearson-Schneider said 1,000 people were evacuated from about 350 homes.

Sheriff’s deputies were going door-to-door checking for victims, county officials said, noting that search and rescue workers were standing by if needed.

The hillside 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles was littered with broken homes, some trailing debris while others, curiously intact, lay at odd angles dozens of feet below the brown gashes that once held their foundations.

One house, snapped in two, had an American flag fluttering from a balcony.

Several homes had fronts hanging in midair where the earth beneath their foundations had given way.

Homes at the top of the ridge were not damaged although artist Scott Moore, 55, was forced to leave. His water and power were out but he planned to return as soon as possible.

‘I’ll stay here forever’

“I’ll stay here forever,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate for those who are in the middle of it. I just hope they all come out all right.”

Laguna Beach, its shoreline dotted with coves and tide pools and offering vistas of the Pacific from coastal bluffs, has some of Southern California’s most desired real estate.

But the neighborhoods historically have been victim to flooding, mudslides and wildfires. Several homes were red-tagged as uninhabitable in February.

In October 1978, a slide in the same canyon damaged or destroyed 50 homes, many of which were rebuilt.

In February 1998, a rainstorm triggered slides that damaged 300 homes, 18 of them seriously. Two people were killed. An October 1993 fire swept down into the city and destroyed some 400 homes. Most were rebuilt within a half-dozen years.

Last January, a landslide crashed down into the coastal community of La Conchita, in Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles, killing 10 people.

Laguna Beach’s Pageant of the Masters – a 70-year-old festival in which famous artworks are recreated with live actors – has drawn crowds for decades, reinforcing the town’s reputation as an art colony.

The community was prominently featured on the MTV hit reality show “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County” that debuted in September. The show chronicled the lifestyle and love lives of teenagers who lived there.


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