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18 Laguna Families Get Green Light

Residents of some of the homes affected by the June 1 landslide move back in after testing shows the risk of ground movement is minimal.

June 14, 2005|Kimi Yoshino and Sara Lin | Times Staff Writers

Despite a brief scare last week that a fallen Laguna Beach hillside might be slipping again, city officials Monday gave 18 families the go-ahead to finally move home.

Further testing through the weekend and Monday showed no sign of ground movement, said Hannes Richter, a geotechnical engineer hired by the city.

"If there were any immediate danger, we would have seen it by now," Richter said.

"We're going to continue to monitor, but based on what we have seen to this point, we think the risk is minimal."

Several relieved residents began making their way back to their homes on the fringe of the June 1 Bluebird Canyon slide that destroyed or severely damaged 20 homes. Others decided to wait one more day to make sure electricity, water, gas and sewer services were fully restored.

For nearly two weeks, residents have been staying in hotels or with friends or family as they awaited the fate of their homes. Some residents who had feared the worst were escorted by police inside their yellow-tagged homes so they could hastily pack and move belongings.

Despite the inconvenience, residents were happy to be home.

"We have got lots to do," said Lara Cassaday, one of about 10 homeowners on Madison Place who moved home Monday.

"We have to move all of our stuff back in. But once we get that done, we just want to get back into our regular routine."

City officials hope six more families will be allowed to return home June 20, said Bob Burnham, the city's recovery coordinator. Twenty-four other homes remain red- or yellow-tagged.

It is likely to be at least two to three years before the hillside can be reconstructed -- if funding is found -- and owners of destroyed homes can start rebuilding, city officials say. It is believed the slide was caused by torrential winter rains that seeped deep into the canyon walls, slowly loosening the hill.

As residents begin to move home, Burnham said, there are still "too many priorities to list" on the road to recovery. The city is still working to find long-term emergency housing for slide victims whose homes were destroyed. The city has tentatively put that figure at 12, though the number has shifted as officials assess the damage to determine which homes have been destroyed and which can be saved.

And officials must also figure out what steps to take to ensure the area doesn't sustain more damage before next winter. Among the tasks are to work on drainage options, determine how to remove destroyed homes, secure state and federal funding and consider how to rebuild the hill.

Homeowner Peter Freeman, 48, was back at his four-bedroom Madison Place home with his 9-year-old son, Traer. Freeman tossed curdled milk, mushy apple pie and old hot dogs into the trash as he cleaned out his refrigerator.

Traer toted in a laptop, tennis rackets and a backpack and after running around the house for a quick inspection, he gleefully held up a Hershey's bar. "Look, it survived!"

With houses just a few doors down suffering serious damage, Freeman said he felt fortunate.

"We are just so lucky in light of everything that happened," he said. "We're going to try to get things squared away -- get things back to as close to normal as possible."

But as he looked down the pockmarked, construction-laden street lined with fenced-off homes, he said: "But I don't think normal is going to happen for quite awhile."

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