Homes Evacuated in San Antonio as Hill Crumbles

The Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO – Construction crews moved dirt to shore up a group of houses precariously perched on a crumbling hill in San Antonio on Monday as engineers tried to figure out why the land below was shifting and whether dozens of evacuated families could return to their homes.

In this Jan. 24, 2010 photo, San Antonio Fire Department personnel survey the damage to a retaining wall as the ground shifts beneath it in San Antonio. (AP Photo/The San Antonio Express-News, Jerry Lara) ** RUMBO DE SAN ANTONIO OUT; NO SALES **

About 80 homes were evacuated on Sunday after a resident in the northwest side subdivision reported that his backyard was sliding down hill. Gaping crevices, some 15 feet deep, cut across his and other yards as dirt cascaded into a two-story-high stone retaining wall that began to give way.

Fences crumbled like accordions as the land fissured, splitting the nearby retaining wall nearly into two. No one has been injured since the soil started sliding beneath the homes on Friday, but aerial photos showed land had given way near the foundations of several homes in the upper-middle class neighborhood of sprawling two-story homes set among rolling hills.

Many residents evacuated from homes that were not directly on top of or below the crumbling hill were expected to be allowed to return home later Monday, District Fire Chief Nim Kidd said. Engineers were assessing each of the structures in the evacuated area, while fire officials escorted some families to retrieve belongings from the neighborhood.

At least seven homes would remain vacant for an extended period, said Kidd, who is also the head of the city’s management office.

Kenny Crawford, 32, asked fire officials to be allowed to retrieve his car and some belongings on Monday, but because his home is directly below the disintegrating retaining wall, he and his girlfriend were told it was too dangerous.

By Monday, geologists and engineers hired by Pulte Homes Inc., the parent company of the subdivision’s developer, had taken over monitoring of land movement. Pulte spokeswoman Valerie Dolenga said engineers were looking for a cause of the slide.

Utilities were cut off in the area, and construction crews using heavy equipment were moving dirt to shore up not just the homes on the hill but also those below the retaining wall.

Resident Lakeika James, 41, said she came home on Sunday to find her street blocked off, unsure what was going on. But she said had noticed odd noises over the three years she has lived in the house.

“I would hear, laying in my bed at night, grumbling and vibrations. A few nails popped out lately,” she said.

James said she hadn’t planned on staying in the house long-term, and now after the land movement, the mother of a 5-year-old girl wants out.

“I’m just going to be uncomfortable and worried for my family,” she said.