Standing on a muddy street near the La Conchita house where she had been living, April Bernal, 18, couldn't stop smiling as a tall man in sunglasses strode toward her and her family.
"I'm Bill," said Bill Harbison, as he engulfed the slim girl in a bear hug.
For the first time since she was swept into a small hole -- where the only things keeping her from being engulfed by mud were a cabinet, part of a wall and other debris -- Bernal returned to this seaside hamlet and met the man who had plucked her to safety.
As Harbison hugged her, Bernal sobbed.
"Thank you," she said, as her father and two sisters cried at her side.
"Thank you for surviving," Harbison replied.
Bernal was one of 13 people rescued from the mud that killed 10 people a week ago. At least 400,000 tons of mud and debris collapsed from the 600-foot cliff that borders the town on the east. As firefighters monitored the hillside -- which geologists have warned is still unstable -- more residents returned home Sunday to retrieve their belongings.
On Saturday evening, residents and geologists observed the mud slide about 15 feet farther down the hill, said Joe Luna, a spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department. Firefighters on Sunday dug a channel to direct water coming off the hillside away from homes, although no further mud movement was noticed.
Bernal, who grew up in Santa Clarita, had been staying in a family friend's La Conchita vacation home while attending the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara. Before the mudslide partly buried the town last Monday, Bernal had been stranded in her car by a smaller mudslide on U.S. Highway 101. She had even called her sister and laughed about the people she saw playing poker in the middle of the highway.
When she got home, she spoke to her father, who was nervous about her staying there in the rain. More than an hour after they talked, the landslide began. Bernal was sitting on a couch on the second floor. She grabbed her cellphone, ran to the stairs and saw water on the floor below. Then everything collapsed around her.
"I just told myself to cover my head," she said.
Harbison, an emergency room nurse, had just stepped out of his house two streets over when he heard a popping sound and saw a torrent of mud moving toward him. Within seconds, he said, the hillside had come down.
"I could hear voices," he said. "I was running around calling out, 'Can anyone hear me?' "
"I saw a teeny bit of [April's] back sticking out and I thought, 'That's the one I'm going for first,' " he said.
He picked up pieces of wood and threw them behind him. He saw April lying on her side, in a triangular space formed when a cabinet behind her fell on a small section of wall. She was about 100 feet from where her house had been. One of her arms was wrapped behind her neck. She still held her cellphone in her hand.
Harbison said he joked with her about being the wicked witch buried under the house in "The Wizard of Oz" and tried to keep talking in a calming manner. Someone brought a crowbar.
When he pulled April out of the hole, he carried her piggyback to some rescue workers. She was treated for cuts and bruises at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura and released around 6 p.m. that evening.
On Sunday, Bernal looked dazed as she surveyed the pile of dirt where her temporary home once stood. "I just can't believe it," she said, as her eyes lingered over blue cushions that used to line her couch. "If I had stayed on that couch ... "
Luie Bernal, a 45-year-old engineer who works in Camarillo, couldn't stop thanking Harbison for saving his daughter. "I'm just really fortunate to have her," he said.
Although he was staying temporarily at his parents' house in nearby Seacliff, Harbison said he was not ready to leave La Conchita yet. The pink barn-shaped house he bought there about a month and a half ago was his dream house, he said.
"I just got here, and I'm proud to call these people my neighbors," he said. Harbison said he was glad he could help them. Still, he added, it was quite a way to meet the neighbors.