76-year-old woman survives mudslide

Golden Gate Bridge(Getty Images)

Susan Gordon was asleep on the second floor early Thursday when the mudslide lifted her home off its foundation, breaking it apart and pushing it down a hillside — with her inside.

“It just happened too fast. I did not know what was going on,” the 76-year-old said in a phone interview from a hotel. “I was on the second floor. I heard something. I started looking for my phone.”

It sounded like a tornado had struck Sausalito, California, across the Golden Gate Strait from San Francisco. The rumbling resembled an earthquake.

Gordon’s duplex on Sausalito Boulevard traveled about a block down the hill before slamming into another home, destroying both homes, sometime before 3 a.m., according to the Southern Marin Fire Protection District. Gordon survived with scratches and bruises and was transported to a hospital and released.

No one else was injured.

Gordon started to cry as she recalled her ordeal.

“I lost everything in that slide. Everything. I lost Peaches,” she said referring to the 2-year-old cat who lived with her in the duplex she rented.

She screamed when the house stopped moving. She was trapped.

“I tried to dig my way out any way I could. Within two minutes, one of my neighbors, I don’t know who it was, came by and he called 911,” she said.

Firefighters arrived to rescue her and six of them worked to extricate her, she said.

“They had to be careful with branches and wood and utility lines. These six guys kept me calm and kept digging me out,” she said.

District Fire Chief Chris Tubbs said when he arrived at the scene he was expecting the worst. Almost five years ago, he responded to a deadly mudslide in Oso, Washington, when he was chief of the Mercer Island Fire Department. That mudslide killed 43 people, according to the US Geological Survey.

Thursday’s mudslide swallowed five cars, Tubbs said.

“You are certainly at the mercy of Mother Nature, with all that water and mud. And for the woman in the house to be able to slide down that hillside and come out the back side alive is a miracle,” Tubbs said in a phone interview.

“She is extremely fortunate,” he said. “Her house was breaking apart as it was coming down the hill.”

Lisa Molbert, a neighbor, said the mudslide woke her.

“It sounded like a tornado, but then I thought it was like an earthquake,” she told CNN affiliate KPIX.

A tree crashed through her kitchen window, damaging her stove, she said.

“My upstairs neighbor, their whole staircase is gone,” she told the station. Molbert said her neighbors climbed through their living room window onto Molbert’s deck to get out of their house.

“And now, their cat’s gone,” she said.

Hours after the mudslide, cadaver dogs searched the debris of the collapsed hillside. Tubbs said fire officials were confident no one else was trapped.

Emergency officials evacuated about 50 nearby homes as heavy rains pounded the area, Tubbs said. Officials plan to assess the area to determine the extent of the damage and to secure gas and power lines.

Interim Sausalito Engineer David Bracken said city officials didn’t have any prior concerns or warnings that a mudslide might happen on the hillside.

“Had we had a concern, we would have notified the homeowners, and if the concern was great enough, we would have evacuated those residents before this event,” he told reporters.

Gordon’s children said the experience traumatized her.

“She didn’t know if she was dreaming or it was real, but she was tossed around like a rag doll,” her son Brooks said, adding he and her daughter are grateful she survived.

“She is very strong,” said her daughter, Denise El Chaar.

“She lost her cat, Peaches, and that is the worst thing,” she said.

But Gordon’s son was more optimistic. He wanted to distribute a picture of Peaches, in case she also survived.

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