Crumbling cliff causes more evacuations in Pacifica

January 21, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
In as long as it took for a massive chunk of sandstone to tumble 80 feet, the apartment cliff dwellers of 320 Esplanade Avenue in Pacifica changed status, Thursday morning from residents to refugees.

"Well, I thought we were going to have to move sooner or later; it just happened sooner," Betty Sue Lukens said. She heard the boom, and then felt the earth move from beneath her apartment at 3:30 this morning.

"It sounded like an earthquake," said Lukens' neighbor, Ricky Jenkins. Wednesday, his back screen door led to a porch, and then a bluff. Today, it drops straight down to frothy surf.

Thursday's developments disappoint everyone. Work crews from Engineered Soil Repairs, Inc have toiled for more than a month, piling giant boulders to break the eroding and jarring force of Pacific Ocean waves on the cliffs. As late as last night, they and Pacifica safety officials assumed the apartments were safe, but that changed in a hurry.

"You see what happened? It's undercut and dropped," Tony Fortunato, who runs the operation, said. "We had rock down there. But the weather and high surf, those are probably what did it. Now we're back to being reactive, again," he mused. "I don't know."

And, Fortunato has always been an optimistic man.

Doug Rider from the City of Pacifica's building department was more pragmatic.

"The people who live down there are voluntarily relocating. Their landlord found them new places to be," he said.

But those new places are just a few doors up from the apartments they are leaving, overlooking the same bluff and surf. Most of the residents hauled their belongings outdoors, through rain, along sidewalks and into the new units. For them, safe haven is a relative term.

"Every night you can feel the building mobbing, moving, rocking, rocking," Sandra Smith said. "It's devastating."

"I'm not sure of anything, anymore," Ricky Jenkins said. "Now we truly do live on the edge of a continent."

People came out to the apartments just to see it for themselves. Some ABC7 spoke with said they do not see why the building owners would even try to save these buildings, but the owners and the engineers think the apartments can be saved and that it is worth it.

"It would take a lot for the whole building to go. They know to stay off the back decks at this point. Yeah, it's safe," Fortunato said.

He explained how the building is still sitting on land. If only 50 percent of it was or if it was undercut, then it would be in jeopardy.

Amy Hollyfield contributed to this report.