The Seacliff Incident




On December 11, 1995, I was called in at 430 am to respond to a disaster on the Presidio. The Presidio was part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area where I worked. I drove into work in the heavy rain and got dressed. I was assigned traffic control at Lincoln Boulevard adjacent Baker Beach because a sinkhole formed on Lincoln Boulevard at 25th Avenue. The sinkhole was eroding several houses and the road away. The heavy rain caused a 6 foot in diameter sewer line from the 1890's to rupture 15 feet under the exclusive Sea Cliff community frequented by the likes of Robin Williams.

When I arrived, I blocked traffic with my police car. I stayed in my car unless a car approached or a pedestrian came by. The blinding rain kept away most on-lookers. I watched the hillside sliding away as the run-off from the busted sewer main assisted with the erosion. The sinkhole kept getting bigger and bigger forcing me to move my police car several times. You could hear all sorts of rumbling sounds from rushing water, heavy rain beating down, and destructive sounds. The destructive sounds were crunching, popping, and cracking from wood, asphalt, and concrete being broken up and crushed.

A well dressed woman approached and knocked on my police car window. She was a Sea Cliff homeowner and she asked if I could help get her cat out of her damaged home. She said the cat was afraid to leave and she was afraid to go in and get the cat. Her house was one of the damaged buildings and she was worried about the it collapsing. This seemed remote to me, but I figured I'd help her. I thought what could go wrong with helping a lady by rescuing her cat.

I got out of my car and followed the pet owner to the vertically listing house. The front door would not fully close or open because the door frame was crooked due to the building leaning at a strange angle. I had to push the door open with all my weight pushing against my left shoulder with a bang. I stepped in and located the cat quickly with its loud meowing. I did not want to be in any of these damaged houses for more than a second. The house did not feel right, so I wanted to get out quickly.

The cat jumped into my arms as soon as she saw me and me her with no effort on my part. The cat seemed scared by the whole thing as she clutched my leather jacket. The whole scene did not feel safe. I stepped outside quickly and handed the woman the cat as the house shook with a mighty rumble. The woman, her cat and I watched the entire house where I'd just been standing slide into the sinkhole.

The woman thanked me and left. I stood for a long time in the heavy rain staring at the sinkhole thinking how close I'd come to being swallowed up before getting into my police car. The sinkhole would eventually swallow two houses, a car, and a large section of roadway, but it didn't get a policeman and a cat.