7/23/2014

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Ground still moving in massive Whidbey Island landslide

Ground still moving in massive Whidbey Island landslide
COUPEVILLE, Wash. - The ground on a scenic Washington state island continued to move Thursday, one day after a massive landslide wiped out a hillside overlooking Puget Sound.

"It still has a bit of slippage here and there," said Terry Clark of the Island County Emergency Management Department. "It can be a handful of dirt to a barrel-full. It's still an active event."

One home was destroyed in Wednesday's slide on Whidbey Island, 50 miles north of Seattle. Another 33 homes were evacuated.

By Thursday, five remained under evacuation orders or a potential order. Another 18 homes weren't accessible by road but could be accessed by boat, Clark said. No one was injured.

Authorities continued to monitor the slide and begun constructing a gravel path to provide access.

No damage estimates were yet available.

On Thursday, "road closed" signs were being posted to prevent access to some areas as geologists continued to examine the site where 400 to 500 yards of the hillside plunged toward the water. At the bottom of the slide, pieces of grass from yards and ornamental tress could still be seen.

Before and after photo of mudslide on Whidbey Island, courtesy Washington Department of Natural Resources


Between 900 and 1,000 feet of road were wiped out, Clark said.

"It's probably one of the largest ones we've seen in Washington state, much less along the coast," Clark said. "We're used to little slides here and there, but this happens to be way beyond what our expectations were."

One of those affected was Ralph Young, whose house now has a stunning, but dangerous view.

"You see where the flag pole is..beyond there to the north there was steady line of trees that cut off our view of Admiral's Cove," Young said. "It'd be a beautiful view. I think we have a $5 million view and a $5 house."

Pete Kenny was visiting to help move his grandmother to Illinois and heard the landslide as he watched power line transformers explode.

"The landslide started right at the property line and went south of us," he said Thursday.

Kenny said his grandmother's home and neighbor to south have not been evacuated. That neighbor lost part of their yard.

"It's a real sad situation. I just hope everything works out," he said.

Most of the homes are summer cabins or weekend getaways and were unoccupied. Some are larger, upscale properties and others are more modest dwellings.

Local restaurants were serving free meals to those who need them, and bed-and-breakfast cottages have also offered free rooms for a couple of nights. Community members were offering to volunteer, Clark said.

He said authorities won't have a preliminary cause for the slide until next week.

Terry Swanson, a geologist at the University of Washington and a Whidbey Island resident, said more detailed studies are needed.

"Not all bluffs act the same. We have landslides here every year," Swanson said of the island, which is about 35 miles long, north to south, and just a mile or two wide in places. "People understand that yes, these are clearly hazards, but there are different types of hazards for different types of slopes."

Clark remained awestruck by the event.

"Amazingly enough, the house that was totally destroyed actually rode on top, all the way down," Clark said.
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