Ground still unstable in area of landslide

COUPEVILLE — Twenty properties on a scenic island hillside were damaged by the massive landslide in Washington state that displaced 200,000 cubic yards of earth, or about 40,000 dump truck loads, officials said Thursday.

Not all the affected properties suffered structural damage — some lost portions of their yards, said Christopher Schwarzen, a Snohomish County spokesman drafted to assist Island County.

Thirty-five homes were initially evacuated after Wednesday’s slide on Whidbey Island. One home was destroyed, and four homes remained under evacuation orders Thursday night. No one was injured.

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. 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.

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

“The chance of another catastrophic movement is low, but possible,” their report said.

No damage estimates were available yet.

Authorities continued to monitor the slide and began constructing a gravel path to provide access to more than a dozen homes that were isolated when a road washed out.

The area “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.”

On Thursday, “road closed” signs were being posted to prevent access to some areas as geologists continued to examine the site. At the bottom of the slide, pieces of grass from yards and ornamental tress could still be seen.

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

Pete Kenny was visiting to help move his grandmother to Illinois and said he 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.

Kenny said his grandmother’s home and a neighbor to south have not been evacuated. That neighbor lost a portion of 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 needed them, and bed-and-breakfast cottages have also offered free rooms for a couple of nights. Community members were offering to volunteer, Clark said.

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

Clark remained awestruck by the event.

“Amazingly enough, the house that was totally destroyed actually rode on top, all the way down,” he said.

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