California Neighborhood Sinking Into the Ground for Unknown Reason

PHOTO: Several homes in Lakeside Heights, California have become abandoned due to them sinking into the ground, May 13, 2013.
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A small neighborhood in Northern California is slowly being swallowed up by the earth, forcing families to evacuate as officials race against the clock to find the cause before more homes are destroyed.

Eight homes have already been abandoned and 10 more are facing evacuation because they are mysteriously sinking into the unstable ground in Lakeside Heights, a 29-home subdivision located on a hilltop neighborhood in Lakeport, Calif.

Officials believe a sudden gush of underground water that has bubbled to the surface is playing a role in the destruction. What gradually began as small cracks in the ground in late March has widened into gaping holes, neighbors say.

Homeowner Randall Fitzgerald says his home is safe for now but he sleeps with one eye open.

"It's called Lakeside Heights but we also call it Landslide Heights," Fitzgerald said.

Residents have watched the neighborhood unravel as the ground beneath it continues to shift. One driveway attached to a home has sunk at least 10 feet below the rest of the home. In another section of the torn subdivision a gaping crack divides the middle of the street and extends all the way to a home that has been pulled apart.

Alberta Diaz says officials have assured her that her house is safe for now but she's still concerned as she has watched surrounding homes get pulled apart.

"Anybody would be afraid of here. You know, it's only because of the unknown. You don't know what's going to happen," Diaz said.

Water bubbling up to the surface may be the problem but officials have not been able to pinpoint the exact cause. Officials fixed broken pipes last week but can't understand why the hilltop neighborhood suddenly has too much water. Multiple causes are under investigation and frustrated neighbors blame everything from a faulty fire hydrant to a nearby dormant volcano.

"It's metastasizing like cancer and it's spreading out," resident Elizabeth Larson said. "There are new cracks showing up in areas of the subdivision that weren't affected before."

Neighbors say they've been told that insurance coverage is unlikely.

"Property values are gone. We have no equity. This is in lockdown and probably will be in lockdown maybe our entire lives," Fitzgerald said.

Sewage pipes have been redirected in the meantime and even mail carriers have been told to avoid the subdivision until the ground stops moving.

The Lake County Board of Supervisors has asked Gov. Jerry Brown to declare an emergency to help determine the problem.

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