Rockslide creates mountain of problems

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As rain continued to pour Tuesday night, workers struggled to stabilize the area of a Telegraph Hill rockslide that forced the evacuation of 120 residents in seven buildings after dumping 30 feet of rocks and mud onto low-lying buildings. Although geologists and structural engineers were still trying to determine the cause of the rockslide Tuesday evening, Carla Johnson of the Department of Building Inspection said it was most likely caused by the weather.

“This seems to be a naturally occurring event,” Johnson said, adding that a buildup of water couldhave caused fissions and fractures that loosened rock, causing an avalanche that damaged a Broadway strip club, a retaining wall and a patio.

Boulders gave way from under a condominium complex at 455 Vallejo St. about 3:30 a.m., creating a landslide of mud and rocks down the side of Telegraph Hill, officials said. The condominium complex consists of 45 units that are all separately owned. The slide deposited a pile of mud and boulders more than 30 feet high and 75 feet wide against buildings at the bottom of the hill. There were no injuries.

The rockslide came down with so much force that it tore through the Showgirls strip club at 412 Broadway, sounding an alarm and setting off a sprinkler system, police Sgt. Steve Mannina said. The rocks also entered an apartment in the Helmand building at 430 Broadway.

The DBI red-tagged seven buildings — three on Broadway, three on Montgomery Street and one on Vallejo — deeming them uninhabitable because of the earth that was still moving Tuesday.

Although most of the damage was caused to the three Broadway buildings that lay below the condominium complex, a patio at the Vallejo condo address had been damaged and department officials said it could drop. A retaining wall behind the three Montgomery Street buildings adjacent to the rockslide was also damaged enough to evacuate the properties.

The seven red-tagged buildings all have property lines butting up against each other on the cliffside where the slide occurred. The property owners were expected to meet today to begin unraveling the complicated legal questions likely to result from the rockslide.

Because the buildings are privately owned, the DBI gave property owners a 24-hour violation notice, obligating them to hire a structural engineer and geologist to assess damage caused bythe rockslide. After 24 hours, the property owners are required to present the report and a plan to correct the problems.

Residents displaced from their homes were temporarily allowed to re-enter Tuesday afternoon with police and fire escorts to retrieve important belongings and pets. The Red Cross directed evacuated residents to a makeshift shelter at the Chinese Recreation Center on Mason Street.

Johnson said the department was trying to figure out a way to get emergency crews on the cliff to remove rocks and a patio that was threatened. But conditions were too unsafe, Strawn said.

“We’re in a wait-and-see mode,” DBI communications manager William Strawn said.

Mayor Gavin Newsom said The City had concerns about the weather conditions and was in the process of addressing other areas that could be at risk for a rockslide.

“We’re hardly out of the woods,” Newsom said at a press conference late Tuesday afternoon.

(Google map/Examiner.com) This map shows 455 Vallejo St., where boulders gave way beneath a condominuim complex, and 412 Broadway, the Showgirls strip club where an alarm and sprinklers went off at about 3:30 a.m. yesterday.

Tumbling boulders shake Montgomery Street lives

In 80 years of living in a Montgomery Street apartment with her two sisters, 90-year-old resident Norma Tealdi said she never had any problems — until Tuesday.

With her clothes, makeup and nightgown packed away in a totebag, Tealdi left her red-tagged apartment complex to stay with her daughter in San Bruno. She said she wasn’t told when she would be allowed to come back.

“You never know,” Tealdi said of the rockslide and evacuation.

Ken Ferrari, who has lived on Montgomery Street for 21 years with his father, said he managed to sleep through the falling boulders. After his apartment building was red-tagged later in the afternoon, he promptly packed some clothes and a few of his beloved cameras but managed to stay calm and collected.

“There’s not a whole lot I can do. I lived through Loma Prieta, and the building held up just fine then. Luckily, I work at a hotel so I should be able to stay there for a few days,” Ferrari said.

The Broadway Showgirls Cabaret had just closed for the night when the slide pushed in the back wall and apparently broke a water main that flooded the club, said Gary Marlin, whose company manages the club.

“Fortunately, everyone had just left,” Marlin said.

The Chinese Recreation Center on Mason Street was turned into a makeshift relocation center by the American Red Cross and housed about 40 people Tuesday evening. Many residents who rented from the red-tagged buildings on Broadway spoke only Chinese, according to translator Chester Ng.

“They are concerned about when they can go back, wondering if it is safe — and we are trying to explain to them how dangerous it is,” Ng said.

The center’s gymnasium had been turned into a dormitory with cots, the only sense of home displaced residents would have for the night. Food, medical and mental health counseling will also be available for the evacuees

“We should be able to take care of them until they can get back into their homes or transition into new housing if they need to,” said Woody Baker-Cohn, spokesman for the Red Cross.

eeconomides@examiner.com

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