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More Cracks in Hillside Discovered : Disaster: Officials call the site at La Conchita unstable and say more landslides are probable. Aid is promised to those whose homes were damaged or destroyed.

March 07, 1995|MACK REED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VENTURA — As residents rescued pets, papers and prized possessions from mud-swamped homes in the beach community of La Conchita, Ventura County emergency officials warned Monday that newly discovered tension cracks show that more landslides in the area are probable.

While a 600,000-ton, two-story landslide oozed farther downhill, geologists spotted signs of imminent landslides on neighboring slopes. Another heavy rainstorm was forecast to hit the coast Wednesday.

"We're really concerned that everyone's going to let their guard down because the sun is out," Sheriff's Cmdr. Richard Purnell warned nearly 200 La Conchita residents who squeezed into a briefing tent.

Nearly all had voluntarily evacuated from 75 homes in the neighborhoods directly downhill from the shaky mud slopes after Saturday's slide crushed nine homes and left nine more unusable or abandoned.

"This is not a static situation," said Sheriff's Lt. Arve Wells. "It's dynamic and it's continuing. . . . This is an unstable site."

Farther down the coast Monday, a rockslide unleashed by the weekend's heavy rains closed Malibu Canyon Road between Mulholland Highway and Pacific Coast Highway. The California Highway Patrol said the road will not be reopened until Wednesday.

CHP Officer Ernie Garcia said authorities are keeping the road closed because they believe hillsides in the area of the slide, which did not injure any motorists, are unstable. The road, a major link between the Malibu area and the San Fernando Valley, was closed just before 7 a.m. Monday.

Meanwhile, new tension cracks split the wet earth on slopes on both sides of the original La Conchita slide area. Those were sure signs that the hillsides could collapse at any time, destroying more homes below, said Robert Anderson, the county's geologist.

"This is the first day I've got to look at it really clearly," Anderson said after stepping off a sheriff's helicopter that flew close to the shifting slopes. "What we found today was quite a few extensive cracks--at least six inches wide."

County Supervisor Maggie Kildee announced that state and federal aid would be coming to La Conchita residents. She said county officials successfully tied the landslide to the disaster declared in January's devastating floods.

But Sheriff Larry Carpenter said much is still unknown--such as how long residents will be kept out of their homes and how many houses might have to be abandoned to the crumbling earth.

"You're crying, you're upset, you're frustrated at the government. You want to know who could have stopped this," he said. "You have a lot of questions. . . . I don't know how this is going to happen, but I do know that some decisions will be made about the livability of the homes in this area."

Resident Dick Klock walked slowly away from the meeting, a distant look in his eye. He and his wife, Corinne, had sprinted out the front door of their Vista Del Rincon Drive home Saturday as the huge wall of mud began crushing it from behind.

Now, the retired telephone worker said he was staying at a Red Cross shelter in Ventura, poring over his insurance policy and trying to figure out what comes next.

"I don't know," he said. "It's starting to hit me now."

George and Chris Caputo walked boldly up to their house, which lay crushed at crazy angles under tons of dirt.

George Caputo, 56, put a foot up on the 45-degree floor of his house, preparing to crawl inside and retrieve a pair of eyeglasses and the family portrait his children gave the couple on their 25th wedding anniversary.

But emergency workers grabbed him, saying there was no point risking his life. The house creaked audibly under the weight of the landslide.

Caputo squinted at a brand-new gas grill that sat tantalizingly close to the buckled sun porch.

"If I could get a pole, we could get that Weber," he said wistfully.

"Dad," pleaded his son, Randy. "That thing cost $350. We could get another one and then we could have barbecues together ."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

La Conchita Landslide

A number of houses in La Conchita were crushed or damaged when a wall of mud came tumbling down behind Vista del Rincon Drive over the weekend. Underground springs continue to saturate the hillside, adding to its instability. Tension cracks are showing on slopes on either side of the slide.

On Monday afternoon, loosened earth slid in this area.

On Saturday, 600,000 tons of earth collapsed.

Rainwater atop original slide is making it wet and unstable.

Constant saturation by ground water leaves slopes in danger of sliding.

Source: Ventura County Sheriff's Department, RJR Engineering Group

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