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Third House Collapses in Laguna Niguel

Geology: Half of hilltop home falls when slope gives way; residents below try to clear out belongings.

March 21, 1998|ROBERT OURLIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAGUNA NIGUEL — A large portion of a third home atop a crumbling man-made hill toppled Friday into a deep ravine, even as evacuated residents of the imperiled Crown Cove condominium complex below scrambled to pull belongings out of harm's way.

Two houses had tumbled the previous day as a terraced slope partially collapsed. It was what residents of the condos at the base of the hill had feared for years: that the slope was unstable and could threaten their lives.

"I can't wait around for anything else to happen," said resident Sandra Paulin, packing up with the help of volunteers from her church. "I have to do what I have to do."

Residents in 21 of the complex's 41 units have been evacuated as the slope that rises over the condos and supports more expensive houses in the Niguel Summit neighborhood has shifted and then failed. The first two hilltop houses toppled early Thursday, and five condos were upended.

A third ridge-top house had been predicted to collapse overnight, but it held firm until midafternoon Friday, when some condo residents, arms full of boxed belongings, looked up to see half of the house on Via Estoril fall into the ravine.

"I heard it, I looked up, and it came down," said Mike Follmer, a racing enthusiast who was moving box after box of Porsche memorabilia at the time. "I had put $40,000 into this place--extras. Now it isn't worth anything."

Geologists and lawyers who have battled in court for nearly four years continued to sort through a costly mess Friday. Condo dwellers have accused the developers of Niguel Summit of negligence, and one developer said buyouts of affected homeowners is a possibility.

Developers also are being sued by owners of the three ruined Niguel Summit houses and several others nearby.

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