Some Calif. Landslide Evacuees Return

Hundreds of evacuated residents were allowed to return to their homes Thursday, a day after multimillion-dollar houses with vistas of the Southern California coastline went slipping down a canyon in a landslide (search).

Though 48 homes remained at least temporarily off-limits, people were allowed back to about 310 undamaged homes as crews worked to restore gas and phone service to the area, City Manager Ken Frank said. Electricity was back on in most homes Thursday.

City officials said seven homes were destroyed and 15 suffered significant damage.

Twenty-two of the affected homes were considered uninhabitable because of damage or their proximity to the slide; access was limited to 26 because of damage or their proximity to the slide.

Assistant City Manager John Pietig said damage estimates had changed since the slide — and could shift again in coming days.

"Some of you, you've got your houses down the hill," Frank told more than 250 people who packed a meeting at City Hall. "You're not going to get in now. You're not going to get in this month."

More than 24 hours after the disaster, frayed nerves were clearly in evidence.

"We don't have any clothes except the ones we have on our backs," said 65-year-old retiree Ruth Castro. "There's things that have to be done at home."

Castro owns two homes in the affected area, and had been monitoring them from a nearby hillside using binoculars. She will be barred from entering one; the other was unaffected.

Carrie Lange, 44, said she had used foot trails to sneak past police barricades back to her 1934 cottage, which wasn't damaged. But Lonnie Duka, a 54-year-old photography professor who retrieved medicine at his house Thursday, noticed a nearby driveway had shifted 150 feet.

"The vista out of the house is so shocking: a vast landscape changed. You have this beautiful canyon view, and now there's a driveway in it," said Duka, who had lived in the home for 22 years.

Five people suffered minor injuries in the slide.

The cause of the disaster was under investigation. But geologists said it was almost certainly related to the winter storms that drenched Southern California. Laguna Beach (search) got nearly double its usual yearly rainfall.

The slide occurred about a mile from the beach on steep sandstone hills that have been densely covered with large two- and three-story homes, many worth $2 million or more.

Officials said residents likely wouldn't be able to recoup their major losses. Insurers have been eliminating coverage for landslides in recent years, though some still offer it. Poulton Associates Inc. said a policy covering a $1 million home would cost about $3,500 a year.

"Right now we have a moratorium on Laguna Beach," said Josh Feinauer, an administrator for the Salt Lake City-based insurer.