Homes built on volcanic terrain are sinking one by one in a California neighborhood, about 100 miles north of San Francisco.
"It's a slow-motion disaster," said Randall Fitzgerald, who bought a home in the Lakeside Heights project a year ago.
The subdivision was developed 30 years ago amid the vistas of Clear Lake and dormant volcano Mount Konocti. Now eight homes are abandoned and 10 others were given notice of imminent evacuation.
Unlike a Florida sinkhole, which appears suddenly and swallows up a chunk of Earth, hilly volcanic country can move anywhere between several feet in a day to just a fraction of an inch. But a development on similar soil in the county is perfect stable.
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Water bubbling up to the surface might play a role in the destruction, officials said. They can’t explain how water atop the hill is plentiful while the county below has groundwater shortages.
"That's the big question," said county public works director Scott De Leon. "We have a dormant volcano, and I'm certain a lot of things that happen here (in Lake County) are a result of that, but we don't know about this."
Within the 10-acre development, Scott and Robin Spivey lived in their four-bedroom, Tudor dream home for 11 years. They first saw cracks in their walls in March. Those became fractures, and in two weeks their 600-square-foot garage broke off. The entire property, including the lawn, now sits 10 feet below the street.
"We want to know what is going on here," said Scott Spivey, who is a former city building inspector.
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De Leon said a geologist has warned that, although some of the movement in the subdivision is shallow fill, the ground could be compromised up to 25 feet down into the bedrock.
Sewage for the subdivision has been redirected through an overland pipe because manholes collapsed.
"Considering this is a low rainfall year and the fact it's letting go now after all of these years, and the magnitude that it's letting go, well it's pretty monumental," De Leon said.
Two leaks founds in the county water system could not account for the amount of water flowing from the hilltop along infrastructure pipes and underground fissures, consultant Tom Ruppenthal said.
"It's very common for groundwater to shift its course," explained Ruppenthal of Utility Services Associates in Seattle. "I think the groundwater has shifted."
The Lake County Board of Supervisors wants Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency in order to get the funding needed to stabilize the utilities and perhaps discover the cause of the collapse.
Six of the homeowners say they now need government assistance.
Brown is still considering the measure, according to the California Emergency Management Agency.