-- A landslide sent 17 multimillion-dollar houses crashing down a hill in Southern California early Wednesday as residents alarmed by the sound of walls and pipes coming apart rushed from their homes in their nightclothes. At least five people suffered minor injuries.

About 1,000 people in 350 other homes in the Bluebird Canyon area were evacuated as a precaution.

In addition to the 17 houses destroyed -- earlier reports said as many as 18 had been destroyed -- 11 were damaged and a street was wrecked when the earth gave way around daybreak in this Orange County community about 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

"The pipes started making funny noises and the toilet sounded like it was about to explode," said Carrie Joyce, one of those who fled. "I could see one house, huge, we call it 'the mausoleum,' 5,000 square feet or more. It had buckled, the retaining wall in the front of it was cracked. It just looked like the whole house was going."

Residents were alerted to the slide shortly before 7 a.m. by popping and cracking as power poles went down, homes fractured and trees disappeared. People grabbed their children, pets and belongings and fled as streets buckled around them.

The cause of the landslide was under investigation. But Ed Harp of the U.S. Geological Survey said it was almost certainly related to winter storms that drenched Southern California. A geologist contracted by the city agreed the cause was most likely rainfall but said more tests are needed.

Laguna Beach has been dry since a trace of rainfall nearly a month ago, but before that, Southern California had its second-rainiest season on record. The region has gotten nearly 28 inches of rain since last July, more than double the annual average.

The slide occurred about a mile from the beach on steep sandstone hills covered with large homes.

Two children were admitted to a hospital in good condition, and two others were treated at the scene for minor injuries, authorities said. A 71-year-old woman whose house was destroyed was taken to the hospital, suffering what appeared to be the effects of stress.

Laguna Beach, offering vistas of the Pacific from coastal bluffs, has some of Southern California's most desirable real estate. Houses in the area where the slide occurred generally sell for $2 million or more, residents said.

A worker walks past one of the houses in the Bluebird Canyon area of Laguna Beach, Calif., that were heavily damaged by a landslide.