Experts: Beware - landslide season is coming soon

Experts: Beware - landslide season is coming soon
SEATTLE - The weather may be dry this weekend, but windier, wetter, colder winter weather is a certainty in the coming weeks - courtesy of the La Niña weather pattern this year.

With all of that comes the threat of landslides in the months ahead. And emergency management officials were on hand Saturday in West Seattle to tell homeowners how to avoid disaster in case the earth really does move.

At the root of the problem is the hilly geography of the Puget Sound region - with Seattle being the second-hilliest city in the nation behind San Francisco.

It's a big reason so many of us enjoy living here - our hills can offer some spectacular views.

But if they're not treated with care, the experts say that sliding ground can easily put your home in jeopardy, especially when the weather gets wet and wild.

Landslide season by now is well under way, with most of them typically occuring next month - after months of water has soaked into the ground.

In West Seattle - where slides are commonplace - emergency management officials made an effort Saturday to educate homeowners on how to prevent them.

As it turns out, a great majority of landslides have some sort of human influence, from chopping down trees to not controlling rainwater.

And that's why homeowners came to Saturday's meeting - to learn what to do, and what not to do on their property.

"I want to restore it to its native state, and remove some of that blackberries and ivy. But I also don't want to create a landslide situation because I live on a steep slope," says Keira Mcgannon, a Beacon Hill homeowner.

How bad can it get?

Late 1996 and early 1997 remains the best reminder. More than 300 landslides rattled Seattle - including the destruction of several homes in the Magnolia neighborhood.

The experts say to take a close look at where you live, and pay attention to things that just don't seem right.

"Areas that have never been muddied before, take a closer look," says Barb Graff of Seattle Emergency Management. "Areas where water is pooling - take a look at that. On hills and slopes, if you notice trees seem to be slanting in a different way, more brush seems to be coming down - that's a potential indicator of a problem."

There's also insurance to consider. If you live in landslide-prone areas, your standard homeowners policy typically excludes "earth movement." You'll need additional, special coverage.

"But a difference-in-conditions policy covers not only landslides, but also mudflow, earthquake and things of that nature," says Karl Newman of the Northwest Insurance Council. "It gives you additional coverage you can't get from a standard homeowners policy."

That type of policy can cost several thousand dollars a year.

And Seattle officials say homeowners should not do anything to their hillside property until they get the OK from the city.

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View a map of the most landslide-prone areas in King County »