FLORENCE TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) — The owners of two homes were ordered to evacuate Wednesday because of what officials called an imminent concern that their residences could slide 70 feet into the Delaware River below.

Erosion has long been an issue for the hilltop homes in Florence, a town 8 miles south of Trenton. But heavy rains over the last several days made it worse, sending a large tree toppling into the river in a landslide.

Township Administrator Richard Brook said the families who own the two houses might never live there again. "It would be too unsafe for them," he said Wednesday. "It can only deteriorate. It can't get better without man-made help."

Chris O'Dell, who has owned one of the homes for more than a decade, said he realized that, too. "When we walk away, we could be walking away for good and losing everything," he said. "That's hard to take."

His wife, Lynne O'Dell, cried as she spoke. "This is our home," she said. "We put a lot of effort into it. I put a lot of love in this house." 

Brook said he believes that an abandoned storm sewer running through the properties was a factor in the ground becoming unstable. He said it is being resealed to try to prevent more water from rushing through.

A Burlington County spokesman said the county engineer is trying to determine what caused the erosion and whether it can be stopped.

Officials said homeowners would be allowed to move things out of the homes but could not stay there overnight.

Brook also said the local government does not want anyone else going near the site.

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Associated Press writer Geoff Mulvihill in Haddonfield contributed to this report.