Living with a house in motion, a backyard sliding

Stephanie Estrada talks about the tarp-covered backyard of her Terri Drive home Thursday. The weighted tarps are in place in an effort to stop wet soil from moving farther down the hill. Estrada said she first noticed a crack more than a week ago. Now, the hill behind her home continues to collapse down into homes in the Trestles neighborhood below, and the Estrada family is living in a hotel. Jim Holt/The Signal
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Stephanie Estrada grew up in this neighborhood on the eastern side of Santa Clarita.

And, because she and her husband wanted a backyard for the kids, they bought their home — their first home — on Terri Drive in September.

On Thursday, after a night of light rainfall, she stood surveying her backyard covered in black tarp and weighted down with sandbags, all in an effort to stop wet soil moving farther down the hill.

“Last night was really light,” she said about the rain. “But I’m hoping that Saturday and Sunday won’t be as crazy as we think it’s going to be.”

Weather forecasters have called for up to 2 inches of rain over the weekend, and that much rain has Estrada worried.

“They’ve done a great job out here, tarping everything, so all the backyards, all the way down the hill are sandbagged,” she said. “I can’t see the drop because the drop at first was so drastic. I can’t see a big change, so we’re hoping it holds up and no more water gets in.”

Sandbagged tarp

The tarp system covers two backyards — at Estrada’s and the house of her neighbor on the west side.

“They (landscapers) are out here with pumps and they pumped out all the water they could for today, and they’ll be back here on the weekend to do more pumping,” she said.

Officials, meanwhile, are still trying to accurately assess what’s going on with the wet soil.

“We’ve been working with our HOA,” Estrada said. “They’ve been very communicative with us lately about what’s going on, with the geologists, the engineers and all that.

“They do have plans set in place, but we’re just on a holding pattern with Mother Nature,” she said. “We just have to wait.”

Life, meanwhile, has been put on hold for the Estrada family.

Life on hold

“We’re still in a hotel,” Estrada said. “It was kind of fun for a couple of days, at least for the kids because they thought they were on vacation.

“But, when they had to get up on Monday and Tuesday morning for school — from the other side of town — they realized, ‘I guess we’re not on vacation.’

“They want to come home, they miss their toys,” she said, returning wistfully to her backyard.

“The backyard is why we bought the house,” she said.

“This is actually our first home. We’ve always lived in apartments and condos.

“The kids have been resilient. They’re rolling with the punches, but it’s tough. It’s settling in. They know that we’re not coming home today or tomorrow.”

“I’m doing laundry at the neighbor’s because our gas has been shut off. We can’t cook, can’t dry clothes.

“We have two people fostering our dogs for us,” she said, counting in her mind all of the little inconveniences living with a yellow tag stuck to her front door.

“We can’t seem to find a rental that doesn’t charge us up the wazoo,” she said.

Widening crack

Real worry began for the Estradas when they noticed a crack between the house and the ground and saw a glimpse of the future.

“We noticed a little crack Monday of last week. By Wednesday, we came outside and there was a 2-foot drop (in the backyard). Little by little, over the next couple of days.”

She looked at the crack at the bottom of her home and patio slab.

“To me, it looks like a lot,” she said, rebounding again. “We absolutely love it here. Our neighbors are amazing. I would hate to have to leave.”

It’s a waiting game.

“We don’t have all the information. They haven’t finished their survey, so they don’t have any sort of summary. We’re still waiting for insurance to come out and take a look at the house for us,” Estrada said.

Love and support

But, as she turns away from the tarp and the sandbags, and the pail-sized pools of water trapped here and there, she puts it all in perspective.

“I love this community. We’ve gotten a (big) outpouring of love and support. We feel the love, and we’re very happy to be where we’re at, to feel so much support from everybody.

“But, even if it all fell down the hill, what are you going to do? It’s all replaceable.”

In the meantime, Estrada and her family focus on the positive.

“It’s nice that they (hotel) are making our beds every day, making our breakfast.”

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