Eroding cliff prompts evacuations in Pacifica

A crumbling cliff forced residents to grab what they could and flee an apartment building atop a coastal bluff because of fears it could slide into the Pacific Ocean.

Building officials in Pacifica ordered residents out immediately Thursday morning as large chunks of cliff plunged into the ocean, leaving the 12-unit building just 10 feet from the edge of the wave-battered, 50-foot bluff.

The evacuation order was issued after part of the cliff, saturated by recent storms, broke off around 5:30 a.m., chief building official Doug Rider said.

An initial evacuation deadline of 5 p.m. was moved up as the cliff continued to crumble. Moving trucks filled the street as about 20 frantic residents packed up what belongings they could.

“It’s been insane. I can’t even think,” said Amanda O’Connell, 24, a swim teacher in the town of 38,000 residents.

O’Connell said residents were warned earlier in the week about the deteriorating bluff. She and her boyfriend decided to move some of their larger possessions out early, just in case, she said.

“This whole week has been the most stressful week of my life,” O’Connell said.

Two nearby buildings also were being monitored but remained stable for the time being, thanks to a wave-deflecting barrier of boulders at the bottom of the bluff, Rider said.

Rick Jenkins, 62, lives in the building next to the evacuated apartments. He said the sound of the cliff breaking apart Thursday morning was like thunder or an earthquake.

Much of the cliff in front of Jenkins’ home had fallen away about 18 months ago before the boulders were brought in, he said. Gesturing toward the wide blue expanse of ocean that greets him every morning, he said the risk was worth it.

“You either move or you don’t,” Jenkins said. “I guess when they say it’s time to go, you go.”

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