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Massive landslide strikes Whidbey Island

A huge landslide south of Coupeville on Whidbey Island destroyed one home and forced the evacuation of 34 others on Wednesday, March 27. No one was injured, but two days later the area was still too dangerous for some residents to return to their homes.

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landslide aerialOLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee will tour the Whidbey Island landslide area Saturday – 10 days after a huge swath of earth fell away, destroying one home and threatening dozens of others.

No one was injured. But because of the landslide, five homes have been judged too dangerous for its owners to return to live in them.

Inslee’s office said the governor will be meeting with local residents, staff and volunteers regarding the landslide. Other participants will include state Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, state Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, and Island County Commissioners Helen Price Johnson, Kelly Emerson, and Jill Johnson.

The landslide occurred in the early morning hours March 27. Several residents were affected by the large moving land mass, with many more experiencing interruptions to power, water, and access to their homes.


Q13 FOX News

WHIDBEY ISLAND – Just days after a massive landslide changed the topography of Whidbey Island in Washington state, residents are coming to grips with the idea that change is part of life.

They have had community meetings in recent days since the slide pushed an estimated 200,000 cubic yards of earth down the west side of the island in Puget Sound, about 50 miles north of Seattle. What they want is some sense of the timeline for when things will return to normal, Eric Brooks, deputy director of Island County Emergency Management told the Los Angeles Times on Friday.

“After a major event like this where people have lost a lot, people have to learn to establish a new normal,” Brooks said by telephone.


The first priority is stabilizing the land, he said, adding that although smaller slides continue, steps in that direction have begun, he said.

For example, there is now a gravel path replacing a road that was lost. The pathway allows people to go back to their homes — 18 remained isolated — to pick up valuables and possessions.

Landslides threaten homes in CoupevilleSo far, the toll includes one house destroyed after the slide hit at about 4 a.m. Wednesday. Four houses have been yellow-tagged, meaning there is danger and habitability of structures is limited. In all, about 20 properties were damaged, including some where backyards fell down or where debris from the slide needs to be cleaned up, Brooks said.

All of the isolated properties have water, and officials are working on restoring power to all of them, he said.

Geologists are still searching for the immediate cause of the slide, but the area is known for smaller slides. Wednesday’s slide was far from the first, and likely not the last.

However, the latest one was massive, dropping enough earth to fill dozens of football stadiums, and even raising the beach about 30 feet above the earlier shoreline. The front of the slide is more than 1,000 feet long and extends some 300 feet into the sound.

No damage estimate was immediately available. Most of the homes on the island are summer or weekend getaways, but there is a permanent community as well.

Taking care of the displaced hasn’t been a problem, Brooks said: There is an active American Red Cross effort, restaurants have been offering meals and some cottages have taken in evacuees.

“It’s been neighbors helping neighbors,” he said.

– Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times


Massive landslide in Ledgewood neighborhood on Whidbey Island

WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. — Some residents of Whidbey Island who were told to evacuate their homes after Wednesday’s massive landslide have been told they can return.

Those who live in homes that did not receive a yellow tag or a red tag were told they could return to their homes. Four homes were yellow tagged, meaning that residents can enter the home but are not allowed to stay in the home overnight. One home was red tagged and its residents are prohibited from entering the home.

The area around the landslide will have restricted access throughout the weekend and access will only be granted for official personnel and residents. Access badges will be required.

Snohomish County Executive Christopher Schwarzen said that there has been little land movement since the initial slide on Wednesday.

WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. — State and Island County geologists said Thursday night they believe the hillside where the massive landslide occurred south of Coupeville began to give away more than a decade ago, in 2002, and that time, water and gravity led to the inevitable event.

“What happens is you’ve got this heavier, denser, dry level on top of the layer that gets wet with the clay layer and that, as that clay gets lubricated, that’s what lets the block slide,” Island County engineer Bill Oakes said.

The experts said they believe the worst of the slide has passed, but the ground is still settling and there is still some minor slide activity or sloughing of dirt from the hillside.

“Oh, it is very unpredictable,” Oakes said. “We have very active coastal geology in Island County and it’s very difficult to predict when and where an individual slide is going to occur.”

Experts said 3.5 million square feet of land dropped away Wednesday morning, along with a lot of trees.

Late Thursday night, residents packed a community meeting, concerned about what will happen next.

Five homes are deemed still at risk. One home is red tagged, which means no one can go inside; four others have been yellow tagged, which means people can get inside but only to retrieve belongings.

As for Driftwood Way, which ran along the lower portion of the cliff and which was destroyed by the slide and left impassible, engineers are already studying the potential to replace it, but that won’t happen anytime soon.

“It would be basically rebuilding a road across a debris field and we don’t typically look at that but the other alternatives are not there in this case. We would typically not do that,” Oakes said.

In the short term, efforts are under way to turn the foot path into a temporary single-lane road. That could take two weeks and, even then, navigating it won’t be easy.

“It is a steep approach. I mean if you’ve been down there, it will be a steep road and it won’t be paved in two weeks. It will be a gravel surface so,” Oakes said.

Until Thursday, resident Morgan Bell’s attempts to get to her house on the bottom side of the slide was not easy — a quarter-mile hike along a muddy, switchback single-track trail.

But it was a trek she was more than ready to take.

“I think the house itself is going to be safe, but I’m concerned that if they can’t rebuild the road, or it’s too expensive to rebuild the road, that they’ll condemn the houses. And my car and everything I own is down there,” Bell said.

Local News

Massive landslide years in the making, officials say

WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. — People on Whidbey Island are trying to get their life back to normal after Wednesday’s massive landslide.

On Thursday, most of the 34 evacuated homeowners were told it was safe to go back in their homes. A preliminary report issued by the Department of Natural resources said the massive landslide was a small portion of a much larger “landslide complex” that is approximately 1.5 miles long and may date back as far as 11,000 years. The slide uplifted the beach as high as 30-feet above the store and moved approximately 200,000-cubic-yards of dirt.

But many area residents aren’t concerned about how much dirt was moved or when the landslide may have started. Many, like area resident Morgan Bell, just want to return home. Some are finding that to be a challenge. Morgan Bell’s home was cut off Wednesday. She had to hike to get out, but that wasn’t an option for her elderly mother.

“My mom, they took her down to the beach and carried her out on a boat,” Bell said.

Bell got the chance to hug the firefighter who saved her mother before hiking back down to her house to try and salvage what she could.


Massive landslide in Ledgewood neighborhood on Whidbey Island

State geologists believe the landslide started ten years ago. More than 5 million square- feet of land dropped away, taking with it hundreds of tall trees. It also left a new cliff side, dangerously close to some homes.

“This is a much better view than it used to be,” said Ralph Young. “Now we’ve got a five million dollar view with maybe a five dollar house.”

Young was worried his home would be red tagged, which essentially makes it unlivable. But so far, only one home, pushed off its foundation by the slide, has to be abandoned. Four other homes have been yellow tagged, meaning owners can come back and remove items, but not spend the night.

Local Fire Chief Ed Hartin said those designations may change if the ground stabilizes.

“The longer the period of time we have no movement, the better off we’ll be,” said Hartin.

But even if the ground stabilizes Hartin is not sure when or if the lower road will be repaired to give people access to their homes.

“I’m concerned that if they can’t rebuild the road, they’ll condemn the houses,” said Bell.

COUPEVILLE, Wash. — A geotechnical engineer who was brought in after a landslide on Whidbey Island destroyed one home and forced the evacuation of 34 others told officials Wednesday night that the slide “is still active, the ground is still moving,” but that he had narrowed the area at risk.

Because of the narrowing of risk, some of the evacuated residents who lived far from the cliff were going to be allowed to return to their homes Wednesday night.

Early Wednesday morning, the landslide shoved one home 20 feet off its foundation, destroying it. In addition, 17 homes on the top part of the slide at Fircrest Avenue were threatened and required evacuation, and another 17 homes on the road below the slide were threatened and required evacuation.

“Kind of like a nightmare, literally,” homeowner Bret Holmes said.

He said the nightmare began at about 4 a.m. Wednesday with a loud, booming sound.

“It sounded like an earthquake, and I heard something really loud and I looked out the master bedroom and noticed that about 20 tall trees were gone,” he said.

His view of Admiralty Bay and the Puget Sound is no longer obscured, but he lost about 75 feet of property and the slide continues toward his house.

“It was pretty scary. I got out there with a flashlight and then just kept hearing a rumbling and watching more and more of it (the land) fall away,” Holmes said.

He wasn’t alone. Behind several homes, the massive slide tore away grass and earth and tossed trees like toothpicks all along a ridge.

“I thought maybe a portion of it was always eroding, but that much of it? No, no. I mean, I lost over 50 percent of my yard,” said neighbor Delia Curt.

Neighbors rushed to the rescue, helping to pack up and carry anything they could grab.

“I just picked and chose what I wanted to take,” Curt said. “Don`t know if I can come back.”

Below the ridge, the slide took out a home and a road, cutting off some neighbors who had to be rescued from the sea by boats or on land by ATVs.

Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue Chief Ed Hartin said they’re still not sure what caused such a major slide but a geotechnical engineer for the state Department of Natural Resources came out to test the soil.

“What he told us is the slide is still active, the ground is still moving, but he has narrowed the area at risk slightly, and we’re recommending that the homes down on Driftwood remain evacuated this evening. Some of the homes we evacuated on Fircrest (on top of the ridge), the occupants will be able to reoccupy those Wednesday evening,” Hartin said.

Holmes said it certainly doesn`t feel stable around his home. He said he’s not sure he`ll return. And if he doesn’t, he said, he`ll miss the place that`s been in his family for three generations.

“Yeah, the first  house built here, and it would be a shame to see it go,” he said.

Holmes, like others here, got other bad news. His home isn’t insured for this, as it falls under the same exception for earthquakes or land movement included in most home insurance policies.

“There is a lot of really lost hope. I mean all these people have put their heart and their soul into this neighborhood and their homes, so I just think it’s going to be really tough,” landslide victim Teresa Levack Norgaard said.

landslide aerial