Public asked to stay away from Wash. Landslide

Posted at: 03/30/2013 1:09 AM
By MANUEL VALDES

(AP) SEATTLE - Washington state officials began building a crude foot and all-terrain vehicle path into a neighborhood cut off by a landslide into Puget Sound.

The area around the slide on Whidbey Island will be restricted through Easter weekend. Only local residents and official personnel, such as public works crew, geologists and law enforcement, will have access.

Thirty-five homes were initially evacuated after Wednesday’s slide 50 miles north of Seattle. One home was destroyed, and four remained under evacuation orders Friday. More than a dozen homes remained inaccessible.

The landslide displaced 200,000 cubic yards of earth, an equivalent of 40,000 dump truck loads.

Spokesman Christopher Schwarzen said geologists continue to assess the slide’s stability and, once established, clean-up can begin. No damage estimates were available yet, and the NW Insurance Council has cautioned that standard homeowners and business insurance policies specifically exclude damage caused by earth movement like a landslide.

In a preliminary report, geologists from the state Department of Natural Resources said the slide area is part of a much larger landslide complex that may date back as far as 11,000 years _ a legacy of the Puget Sound’s glacial past.

Overnight Thursday, there was very little movement detected from the slide.

While the ground continued to move Thursday, geologists said the land will slowly try to stabilize itself.

On Thursday night at a community meeting, residents said they were worried looters might target the evacuated properties. Authorities assured them that the sheriff’s office plans extra patrols.

Less than a quarter of the homes have year-round residents. Most are summer cabins or weekend getaways and were unoccupied. Some are larger, upscale properties and others are more modest.

The house that was destroyed slid down a bluff, nearly into Puget Sound.

The occupant, John Etheridge, 82, tells KOMO-TV he awoke to a loud boom about 3 a.m. Wednesday.

He could feel the home sliding off its foundation. Etheridge said he threw on some sweat pants and shoes, grabbed his keys and kicked open a balky back door.

He jumped in his truck, threw it in reverse and headed down the street leading out, only to find the landslide had taken out the two-lane road. That’s when he called 911 and was rescued unharmed by people in an all-terrain vehicle.

"It’s instinct to survive and get out because to stay would be to die, and I wasn’t quite ready for it," he said.

Meanwhile, crews have begun laying a path for residents to access the homes blocked by debris that washed out the road. Authorities eventually hope to build a temporary access road, but that may take weeks.

The landslide into Puget Sound lifted the beach as much as 30 feet above the previous shoreline, the geologists said in a preliminary report Thursday.

The front of the landslide at the beach is about 1,100 feet long and extends about 300 feet into the sound, the report said.

The island is about 35 miles long, north to south, and just a mile or two wide in places.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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