Encinitas bluff collapse kills 3 people

ENCINITAS, Calif. -- Three people died after a multi-ton section of sea bluff collapsed on a stretch of ocean shoreline near Batiquitos Lagoon.

The cliff failure took place shortly before 3 p.m. at Grandview Surf Beach in the Leucadia neighborhood of Encinitas, just north of a lifeguard station that was staffed at the time, according to officials in the northern San Diego County city.

Emergency personnel pulled five people out of the resulting mound of rock and soil, Encinitas Fire Chief Mike Stein told reporters.

One of the victims, a woman, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Three others were taken to hospitals, two in critical condition and one with minor trauma, Stein said. Two of the three victims succumbed to their injuries, according to the City of Encinitas.

One other was treated at the scene for superficial injuries. All of the victims were adults, sheriff's Lt. Amber Baggs said.

Authorities brought in a service-dog team to search for anyone else who might have wound up buried under the approximately 25- by 30-foot earthen pile, which was about 10 feet tall at its highest point, Stein said.

The collapse was believed to have sent 15 to 20 cubic yards of material onto the beach, the fire chief added.

One cubic yard of dirt can vary in weight from roughly 2,000 to 2,700 pounds, according to the online encyclopedia Reference.com.

Several people who live nearby witnessed firsthand extensive lifesaving efforts.

"Real hard to watch. It was unnerving, actually," said Encinitas resident Jim Pepperdine. "They were digging out a woman -- frantically digging her out -- and they managed to get her out. There was already another person removed. And there was still another person trapped underneath some pretty good-sized boulders. It was pretty devastating."

As a public-safety precaution, the city closed the shoreline from Ponto Beach on the north to several hundred yards south of the accident site near the foot of Grandview Street.

"We do have concerns," said lifeguard Capt. Larry Giles. "There is an area in there (where the cliff remains) unstable."

City engineers told FOX 5 no homes were currently threatened, but will conduct another assessment Saturday morning.

Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear issued the following statement:

"We are devastated by the tragedy today and our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We stand ready to help in any way possible. Our engineers and the public safety team are diligently working to assess bluff conditions."

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