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Last of Slide Evacuation Orders Lifted : Disaster: Twenty more Anaheim Hills families may return to their homes, but some say the area is still unsafe. Angry residents accuse city officials of foot-dragging.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Twenty more families were given the green light Monday to move back into their homes when city officials lifted the last evacuation order covering a wealthy Anaheim Hills neighborhood that was hit by a severe landslide in January.

But some of the affected homeowners will delay moving back into their homes, saying they still believe the houses are unsafe. And at a meeting with Anaheim officials Monday night, they expressed anger and accused city officials of foot-dragging over efforts to resolve the landslide problems.

A total of 23 other families have been allowed to return to their homes over the past three weeks, but only 14 had done so as of Friday.

City officials said the three homes most severely damaged in the slide will remain off-limits and may eventually have to be torn down.

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City officials said they lifted the last evacuation order because the 25-acre landslide, which continues to move at a rate of about one-fifth of an inch a month, has stabilized enough that residents would no longer be in any immediate danger. The city has placed 120 wells in the area, and they have been pumping 200,000 gallons of water a day from the hillside in an effort to halt ground movement.

“Would you move back into a home that is still moving?” asked Sandy Steiner, who lives in the slide area and has refused to return home. “They say it’s only moving less than an inch a month. That doesn’t sound like much until you think about your walls, your foundations or what’s doing the moving.”

City officials now say the slide has caused $5 million in damage and that the city has spent $1.9 million in efforts to mitigate the slide.

Streets partly or totally affected by the evacuation orders were Georgetown Circle, Rimwood Drive, Avenida de Santiago, Burlwood Drive and Pegasus Street. Before the slide, homes in the area cost from $300,000 to more than $1 million.

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City spokesman Bret Colson said 26 of the 46 homes ordered evacuated have passed tests of their water and sewer lines, checks required before the city would allow them to be reoccupied. One home failed the test, and 16 have not yet been checked for cracks caused by ground movement.

City officials are advising area residents to keep the watering of lawns and gardens to a minimum.

“They need to realize that the more water they put into the ground, that’s more water that is going to have to be taken out,” Colson said, pointing out that it was 13 days of heavy rain in January that caused the slide to begin moving rapidly.

The first signs of the landslide were reported to the city in June, when residents told officials about cracking in walls and streets. Between July and Jan. 18, the hill moved about an inch. But after a series of heavy winter storms, the hill moved about an inch a day over the course of two weeks.

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Geologists who have examined the area now say they believe the slide dates to at least the Ice Age. Some residents have filed claims against the city, saying it should have known of the danger and not allowed homes to be built in the area.

Even though the last evacuation order has been lifted, residents say it will be a while before neighborhood life returns to something resembling normal, if indeed it ever does.

Streets and sidewalks remain buckled throughout the area, and many homes have cracked walls and ceilings. Residents are responsible for fixing their homes, which will be costly because most homeowners insurance policies do not cover landslides. The city is working to fix sidewalks and streets where possible.

City officials say that 35 of the wells will be placed underground permanently.

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But residents Monday night said they are less than satisfied with the city’s efforts.

“I’m not sure the city officials completely understand our frustration,” said Pat Panik. She and other residents complained that their calls to city officials often go unanswered and that city workers have become uncommunicative.

“They get to go home and go to sleep every night, but we’re the ones who have to live through this every day,” Panik said.

City Fire Chief Jeff Bowman said he is sympathetic to the residents’ situation and that he and other officials are doing everything they can to try to resolve the problems. “I don’t know what each of these homeowners have experienced,” Bowman said. “All I can do is tell them that if they have a problem, they should call me personally, and I will see to it that something is done.”

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Applying for Disaster Aid

People or businesses that suffered uninsured property losses in Orange County during the heavy rains of January and February now have until May 5 to apply for emergency assistance, state and federal officials said Monday.

Those who lost property or whose homes or businesses were damaged between Jan. 5, 1993, and March 20, 1993, may be eligible, authorities said.

To register for federal assistance or get information on eligibility, call (800) 462-9029 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

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Orange County was one of 24 California counties covered by President Bill Clinton’s declaration of a federal disaster area. The city of Fillmore was also declared a disaster area.


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