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Children buried beneath mountain of mud

By TODD R. EASTHAM

PACIFICA, Calif. -- A wave of mud slid down a hillside with a thunderous roar, smashing one home into another and burying three screaming children in their beds, authorities said Tuesday.

The children, presumed dead, were the youngest known victims of a storm that left millions of northern Californians stunned.

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Police in this coastal suburb south of San Francisco said rescue crews were trying to clear the rubble from the muddy wreckage of the two homes that slid together and collapsed when a hillside above them gave way under the weight of the rains.

'At this point, it would be a very slim chance that they have survived,' said Pacifica Fire Chief Cal Hinton said as he surveyed the torn hillside off Oddstad Boulevard.

The children's parents, Bill and Barbara Velez, were in a bedroom in the rear of the downhill house and escaped with their two dogs.

Within minutes -- which neighbors say were punctuated by the cries of the trapped children -- the house was pinned beneath the sagging two-story structure that had been their next door neighbor's home and both buildings were engulfed in a sea of mud.

'Everybody thought it was thunder,' said Leslie Bauer, a 14-year-old neighbor. 'But then it just kept rolling.'

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Rescue workers found a man 'trapped in mud up to his waist and pinned against the wall' in the remains of the uphill house, Hinton said. The unidentified man was shaken, but was not seriously injured, he said. His home was 'a total loss.'

The three children trapped deep inside the mountain of rubble were identified as Michele Velez, 14, Billy Velez, 9 and Melisa Velez, 4.

At daybreak Tuesday, rescue workers offered little hope that they could have survived the night beneath the shifting mountain of mud and debris.

Back hoes that had been used to tear away the rubbled and try to lift the remains of the shattered homes were taken away and workers resorted to dousing the wreckage with firehoses in an effort to dislodge the mud encrusting it.

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