SAN DIEGO – Erinn and Alton McCormick had no idea when they bought their house in June that it sat directly beneath a weak hillside. On Thursday, it sat buried up to the roofline by a wall of earth and cracked asphalt studded with pieces of curb, eucalyptus and palm tree that used to be across the street. Residents returning to the shaken neighborhood – whether just to grab some things and take photos to show insurance adjusters or, if they were lucky, to stay for good – struggled to figure out who to blame for the landslide that took a chunk out of their La Jolla hillside a day earlier. The collapse came just hours after engineers hired to inspect an earth slippage that was first spotted in July warned residents not to sleep in their homes because of the potential for instability in an area that has suffered landslides in the past. It sent four homes sinking down the slope and shoved tons of dirt up to the roofline of the McCormicks’ house on the street below. In all, nine homes had severe structural damage that put them off limits and 18 others remained yellow-tagged for further inspection before they can be reoccupied. The only possible exception is if homeowners prove the landslide was caused by something that is covered, like utility-line ruptures, said Jennifer Kearns, a spokesman for the California Department of Insurance. “If the history of inspections of pipelines on Mount Soledad indicates that leakage isn’t an isolated event, if it keeps happening and they just deal with it, you have to ask what kind of work have they been doing over the past 10 years,” said Ahmed Elgamal, a professor of structural engineering at the University of California, San Diego. “If it’s been active that’s a sign that in certain areas it’s an expected event that the pipes would move.” The city spotted cracks on Soledad Mountain Road in July and water and gas main breaks in August. A water line in the neighborhood was replaced with an above-ground pipeline in September to avert damage, and engineers were in the area installing measuring devices just as the land began to shift. Residents below the slide’s origin, like the McCormicks, said they didn’t have any warning that the hill above might give way. According to San Diego real-estate attorney George Berger, California laws don’t necessarily require individual sellers to disclose information about previous landslides, especially if there isn’t any evidence of movement on the property itself.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! “They told us the worst-case scenario was six feet of dirt in our front yard,” said Erinn McCormick, 37, who said she first heard that engineers were concerned about a slip a month after she moved into her “dream house.” “Then I talked to an engineer yesterday morning before I took my kids to school, and he said, `I wouldn’t stay here if I were you.”‘ McCormick, who could see her buried house from a police checkpoint but hadn’t been able to return and inspect it, said she had spent days calling city officials about a water leak in her street. She didn’t get a response until Monday, two days before the collapse, when workers finally turned off a hydrant. A total of 111 homes were evacuated after the slide. Residents of 84 undamaged houses were allowed to return Thursday. “They told me I wouldn’t ever be able to get back in, but it’s absolutely perfect,” said Jeanne Plante, 43, who said she was just planning to remodel her $1.7 million mountainside house. “I probably lost half a million in equity overnight, though.” Many insurers provide homeowners’ policies that protect against earthquakes and floods but they have shied away from covering landslides, which only affect a relatively small number of people.