Wearing pajamas, bewildered Laguna Beach residents tried to decipher the popping and cracking noises that broke their morning routines Wednesday.
As the ground began to slump beneath them, they clutched children and pets. Small, odd noises became a roar. Confusion gave way to panic.
Another slice of coastal California paradise was slouching seaward.
"The land was moving into the house," said John Gustafson, 54, whose house was near the foot of the massive slide. "It looked like an ocean wave of trees and dirt. I saw the trees coming. They were moving toward me."
For Gustafson and others, noise was the first clue of the landslide that destroyed 17 homes.
Gustafson, an elementary school teacher in Irvine, was getting ready for work at 7 a.m. when he heard wood splitting. He went to his deck to investigate and ran back inside, yelling to his roommate, "Get out of the house!"
For many Laguna Beach residents, in an unfathomable few minutes, the houses and neighborhood they knew as home were transformed into a menacing threat.
High above Gustafson, Jill Lockhart, 39, was getting out of bed when she heard popping noises. Her husband, Bobby, had already left for work. She grabbed their children, Tyson, 2, and Trey, 4, and ran out onto Flamingo Road. She wore socks, not stopping to put on shoes.
A neighbor, Steve Howard, 44, offered Lockhart and others a ride down the hill in his Ford F-350 truck. But after traveling about 50 yards, Howard said, the street buckled in front of him and rose 30 feet into the air. He backed up until a wall of dirt blocked them.
Then the telephone poles on the street started to fall, and wires from one landed across the truck, trapping the passengers inside.
"Everything was buckling, and poles were falling," Lockhart said. "There was water gushing, water gushing everywhere. We were trapped. I could hear houses breaking. My 2-year-old was crying hysterically. My 4-year-old was panicking."
The street moved again, pushing the wires off the truck. Everyone bailed out and began making their way downhill on foot as homes creaked around them.
"We had to run for our lives," Lockhart said later in the morning, her legs caked with mud. "It was absolutely terrifying."
Down on Oriole Drive, Robert Pompeo, 56, thought he heard a gunshot. Pompeo, a retired Northrop engineer, was watching the History Channel when he heard cracking.
Pompeo's wife, Donna, who had been sleeping, rushed into the living room saying, "somebody's been shot."
The couple heard commotion. When they stepped outside, they saw a crowd running down Oriole Drive, some of them in pajamas, yelling, "Get out! Get out! The houses are falling."
Pompeo looked up and saw the gashed hillside and collapsing homes. The couple grabbed their two cats, hopped in their Saturn and sped off. They returned later to pick up Pompeo's prescription medicine. Their house had been spared, but it sat on the path of the sliding hillside.
"This hill could come down any second," Pompeo said. "When it does, you better be ready to run as fast as you can."
For Kitty Smith, the morning of chaos began with a loud crash and then, almost instantly, the power went out in her home on Van Dyke Drive, on the opposite side of the canyon from the slide.
Her daughter, Cassie, 14, stepped onto the rear balcony that overlooks Bluebird Canyon to take a look. A few seconds later, Cassie said, "Mom, you better come here."
They watched as cracked homes slid down the hillside, creating large puffs of dust that they first thought were smoke.
As the morning wore on, Kitty Smith saw more homes tumble. Some homes looked like a "giant had grabbed them and, with both hands, split them in two," Smith said.
Tricia and Cameron Frasier, whose home is on Bluebird Canyon Drive, had no time to watch the unfolding disaster. They snatched their 3-year-old daughter, Kendall, their two dogs, Chili and Bo, and their python, Ruby. Then they hiked half a mile down the hill. Later, they learned their home had been spared.
"It's crazy, but it's not like Laguna hasn't been through this before," said Tricia Frasier, 39. "Unfortunately, everyone who lives up here knows there's a landslide threat."
Betty Luskin, 69, worried about that threat during a frustrating two hours after the evacuation order. She desperately wanted to take her three cats with her when she left, but they were too skittish to be herded into their carrier.
At 9:30 a.m. she gave up, leaving them behind with food and water.
With only her purse and the clothes on her back, she made her way by foot down Bluebird Canyon Drive.
At the bottom of the hill, on an unlucky day, she had a small piece of luck: Her regular Federal Express delivery man drove up and handed her a package. It was shirts she had purchased from a mail-order company, providing her with a change of clothes if she needed it.