Berkeley Hills mudslide: 1 home damaged, 4 others red-tagged

No injuries were reported, but 14 people were evacuated from eight homes, BFD said. Five of the homes were ultimately red-tagged.

Berkeley Hills mudslide: 1 home damaged, 4 others red-tagged
A mudslide came down onto a home in the Berkeley Hills on Middlefield Road on Monday morning, Jan. 16, 2023. Scanner Insider

A wall of dirt and mud pushed into the kitchen of a home on Middlefield Road in the Berkeley Hills on Monday morning damaging the structure and causing seven other properties nearby to be evacuated, authorities said.

No injuries were reported, but 14 people were evacuated from their homes, the Berkeley Fire Department told The Berkeley Scanner at 3:30 p.m.

Five of the homes — one on Middlefield and others on The Spiral and Wildcat Canyon Road — have now been red-tagged, meaning they are unsafe to occupy. Residents in three other homes were allowed to return.

(BFD initially said eight homes were red-tagged but it turned out that the correct number was five.)

It was unclear as of Monday afternoon when the remaining residents would be allowed back inside.

The residents of the damaged home on Middlefield Road called the Berkeley Fire Department themselves to report the disaster just after 7 a.m. Monday.

Three outbuildings on the property as well as the main house were hit by the wall of mud, which burst inside through the kitchen doors.

Authorities described the hillside as "totally saturated" from the heavy rains that have battered Berkeley and much of California in recent weeks.

After ensuring everyone was safe Monday morning, authorities focused their attention in the afternoon on a broken pipe up the hill from Middlefield Road on Zaytuna College property that had been dumping 5-10 gallons of water per minute down into the path of the mudslide.

The city worked with Zaytuna to connect a corrugated pipe to the broken pipe to divert the water flow off the mudslide path and into a storm drain, the Berkeley Fire Department said. The temporary fix was in place by around 3 p.m.

As of Monday afternoon, the mudslide was still moving slowly, said Interim Deputy Fire Chief Keith May of the Berkeley Fire Department.

Earlier in the day, authorities had closed The Spiral, a one-block street just down the hill from the mudslide on Middlefield. BFD parked a fire engine in front of the street to block access.

May said local geologists visited the site Monday to assess the damage and give their advice.

The East Bay Municipal Utility District and PG&E were also on-site to do their own assessments.

BFD has advised residents in the area to stay vigilant and report any unsafe conditions, particularly as more rain is expected later this week.

"We just have to be alert," May said.

May said BFD was working on a plan to help residents get back into their homes briefly to collect key property.

But he said it was too soon to say when the evacuated residents from Middlefield or the homes down the hill would be allowed to return permanently.

On Monday evening, May said Zaytuna College would now work with building inspectors, a geologist and an excavating company to determine how to proceed safely.

The experts will look at what part of the earth might be moved little by little so as not to cause further damage — or cause the rest of the slide to come down.

"They want to remove it, but they’re afraid the pressure could collapse the house," one community member said. "Whatever they do might activate more movement."

In a Nixle alert Monday morning, authorities described the threatened area as Middlefield Road, The Spiral and Wildcat Canyon Road in the Berkeley Hills.

The first alert came in just after 8:10 a.m. and advised residents about the mudslide and the possibility of the need to evacuate. BFD then worked to contact residents directly who lived in any homes that were threatened.

About two hours later, the city sent a follow-up Nixle message.

"Residents in the area should continue to stay alert," the city advised via a Nixle update just after 10 a.m. "Limit travel to the area as responders work to stabilize the slide and coordinate with affected residents."

Berkeley resident Marjorie Cruz, who lives in the home on Middlefield that bore the brunt of the mudslide damage, spoke with NBC Bay Area's Jodi Hernandez on Monday.

Councilmember Susan Wengraf, who represents the Berkeley Hills district where the mudslide happened, said she had been speaking with residents and city staff throughout the day.

"It’s an active slide because water is still draining. You can still see water," she said Monday afternoon. "It’s a terrible thing. It's just devastating."

She said city staff had been extremely communicative throughout the day to ensure people knew what was going on.

City staff from the Berkeley Fire Department, Public Works and the Building and Safety Division remained at the site throughout the day.

The mudslide occurred on the steep hillside between Zaytuna College (red roof) and 966 Middlefield Road. Homes on The Spiral and Wildcat Canyon were also evacuated. Google Maps

Zaytuna College worked closely with the city Monday to address the damaged pipe on its property as well as the mudslide overall.

The Middlefield Road incident in the Berkeley Hills was one of several mudslides in Berkeley and Oakland that led to emergency alerts or caused alarm Monday.

UC Berkeley advised of a mudslide on Sports Lane at the Clark Kerr campus Monday at 8:25 a.m.

The Sports Lane mudslide. UCPD

Caltrans reported a mudslide on State Route 13 at Broadway Terrace that closed the route.

And a massive mudslide in the Claremont Hills neighborhood of Oakland blocked Alvarado Road down to Claremont Avenue.

As of late Monday afternoon, that portion of Alvarado remained closed.

Local journalist and author Frances Dinkelspiel, who lives in the area, told The Scanner that a neighbor had alerted her husband to the slide at about 8:30 a.m. Monday.

They went out to review the damage, as did many other local residents.

Dinkelspiel said she and her husband had stopped driving down that side of the hill in recent weeks due to concerns about the steepness of the grade during the heavy rains.

"We’ve always been afraid this would happen," Dinkelspiel said. "They've spent millions and millions of dollars on that hill."

The neighborhood is on the border of Berkeley and Oakland, which can lead to some confusion: While some homes in the area have Berkeley street addresses, the properties are actually in Oakland.

Dinkelspiel said she had seen city of Oakland transportation workers cleaning up Alvarado Road on Monday and that Oakland police said the city would likely need to hire a contractor to clear the roadway due to the scale of the damage.

The city of Oakland does not appear to have put out any advisories about the Alvarado Road mudslide, although the incident does appear on its map of storm-related service requests with a location of Alvarado and Amito Avenue.

Dinkelspiel said she had spoken to a woman who lives right next to the Alvarado Road mudslide who said she had not been contacted by the city of Oakland.  

"She hasn’t heard from anyone," Dinkelspiel said. "She doesn’t know if her house is safe."

Oakland's road closure list was last updated Jan. 9. The city is also posting winter storm news on the city website.

This story was updated after publication due to the developing nature of events.

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