A man whose rental property hangs off the edge of a cavernous Wellington landslide says he ran to alert sleeping residents as it began to give way under his feet.
William Chezick built and owns the Kingston property which has foundations exposed after yesterday's massive early morning landslide demolished his backyard.
Chezick said he feared for his life as he ran down a disintegrating concrete path in pitch darkness to rouse tenants in the house at the bottom of his property.
He said it was fortunate no one was injured or killed.
"The bank was falling out from under our feet and trees were disappearing out of sight."
Partner Sarah Jackson described the terrifying sound as their lush backyard caved away in a few short moments. "It was like being on a construction site with lots of rubble, cracking and the sound of water."
The tenants managed to get out but were unable to save anything. Chezick and Jackson were able to return briefly to the front of the property to salvage valuable items before it was cordoned off.
Chezick praised the heroism of his neighbour who raised the alarm by banging loudly on their door.
The man, known as Neil, owned the second home teetering on the brink and deemed too dangerous for anyone to enter.
Chezick believed his house and his neighbour's three-storey house would have to be demolished.
Wellington City Council was rehousing eight families from Priscilla Cres and Breton Grove until authorities give the all clear to return.
Security guards were posted outside the abandoned homes yesterday.
Spokesman Richard MacLean said engineers and geotechnical experts would assess the situation but it was too early to say what caused the slip, believed to be one of the biggest in Wellington's history.
"We did an emergency dig of the road and we can categorically say it wasn't a burst water main."
MacLean said attention focused on sewer and stormwater pipes across the slip face and whether either main contributed to the collapse.
Other homeowners in the street have so far been spared any land loss - but only just.
Marc Nicholas, whose family home sits right on the edge of the cordoned zone, was evacuated after the 150m slip stopped at the edge of his property.
"We're a little worried. At the moment it's still just on the boundary. The house is on solid land but the rest of the section is just fill."
Student Aaron Miller, who lived two doors down from Nicholas, said it was the second time his family had been caught up in a Wellington landslide.
"We lived in Kelson in Lower Hutt when there was a slip there about six years ago, and we were living about the same distance from it as we are from this one."
Breton Grove schoolgirl Ivana Emer described the sound of the slip as similar to the ebb and flow of a tide. "You know the swishing sound from the sea when it comes in and out? It was like that."
The terrified 12-year-old, who had time only to grab a blanket before she ran down the street, saw large trees falling down the crumbling hill.
Yesterday afternoon, 35 elderly residents evacuated from Kilmarnock Heights Rest Home returned from a neighbouring retirement village.
Many, still in their pyjamas when the call was made to evacuate shortly after 4.30am, were tired but considered the day a bit of an adventure, said their manager.