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Wrecking Crew’s New Address : Storms: A $400,000 hillside home damaged in mudslide is the first to be torn down in San Clemente. So far, 14 structures there have been declared uninhabitable.

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As the crew began demolishing his $400,000 ocean-view home of 10 years Thursday morning, Louis Ecker still had his sense of humor, if nothing else.

“I think the Lord got us mixed up with someone else,” Ecker, 77, said, laughing. “I think I was supposed to win the lottery. The odds are about even.”

In this case, the odds involved his home, which was so badly damaged by the torrential rainstorms earlier this month that there was no choice but to call in a wrecking crew.

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Ecker’s 31-year-old home is the first in San Clemente to be demolished, city fire officials said. So far, 14 structures throughout the community have been declared uninhabitable, but only six of them are considered too far gone to be saved.

Since Jan. 18, Ecker’s house has slipped more than 50 inches toward another home on the hillside below. His house has split in two from the movement, with a portion of its concrete slab sticking up about a foot in the middle of the dining room. He and his wife are now living in a rented apartment in San Clemente.

This isn’t the first time disaster has visited Ecker.

This summer, a rental home he owned in Big Bear sustained about $10,000 worth of damage from the earthquakes centered near there.

“Mother Nature is after him,” joked Jim Boehm, Ecker’s son-in-law. “He’s not running fast enough.”

Altogether, about 342 places suffered landslide damage in San Clemente during the storms, including parking lots, sidewalks and back yards. Also, 12 public facilities, ranging from storm drains to beach access routes, need significant repairs from the storms.

“Everywhere we go, we just keep finding more and more problems,” City Engineer William Cameron said Thursday.

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The City Council, acting late Wednesday, approved $125,000 to make emergency storm drain repairs, a move that depleted the financially troubled city’s small budget reserve. Last week, the council authorized an initial $150,000 for repairs.

“If ever there was a need to go into our rainy day fund, this is it,” City Manager Michael W. Parness said.

A heavily traveled one-mile stretch of Pacific Coast Highway from Avenida Pico to Camino Capistrano also remains closed because of rain damage, making it harder for customers to reach isolated businesses and get from one end of San Clemente to the other.

Officials expect to reopen the road by the end of next week, although that hinges on the condition of three Colony Cove homes perched on the unstable bluffs above the highway, Cameron said.

The road closure at least has given crews an opportunity to finish work on a South Coast Water District pipeline project, Cameron said. “We probably would have had to close Coast Highway because of this work anyway,” he said.

Meanwhile, back at Ecker’s house, it will probably take crews about four days to tear down the three-bedroom house. Most of the work will be done by hand because city officials won’t allow heavy equipment in the unstable hillside neighborhood.

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The heavily damaged house next door also will probably be demolished, city officials said.

While Ecker’s insurance company is paying for the estimated $10,000 to $17,000 cost of the demolition, he doesn’t expect to receive any other insurance compensation for the loss of his home.

However, the retired concrete contractor hopes to receive federal disaster aid.

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