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Geologists seek cause of landslide at Whidbey Island

March 28, 2013|By Michael Muskal

Geologists searched for clues Thursday to explain the collapse of a 1,000-foot chunk of hillside on the west side of Whidbey Island in Washington state that left a number of homes in danger.

The geological team was on the island, located in Puget Sound about 50 miles north of Seattle, and is expected to report its findings soon, Terry Clark, a spokeswoman for the Island County Emergency Management Department, said Thursday morning in a telephone interview with the Los Angeles Times. She characterized the event at about 4 a.m. Wednesday as “a major landslide.”

No injuries have been reported from the slide, but many of the homes were ordered evacuated and their residents relocated by the American Red Cross. One house was seriously damaged, knocked from its foundation, and at least eight homes are considered either damaged or unstable, Clark said.

In all, about three dozen houses in the Ledgewood community on the island were affected by the slide. An estimated 17 homes were isolated because the road to reach them is gone, officials said.

Many of the homes in the area are used by vacationers, but there is a community of permanent residents in the area, which is known for slides -- but not of the magnitude of Wednesday's collapse.

“The west side of the island … is prone to slides because of soil conditions and water movement in the ground,” Whidbey Fire and Rescue Chief Ed Hartin told reporters. “We have no specific cause as to 'why here, why now, why this big.' "

Some of those evacuated will be allowed to return after officials decide the safety issues, he said. 

Residents were still reeling from the incident. “The ground shook. It was like an earthquake,”  Bret Holmes told King5.com.

Holmes’ family owned a home on the hillside that had views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. He said his family had lived in the neighborhood for generations.

“It makes me want to throw up,” he said, packing his belongings into a garage. “We lost half of the back yard all at once. Fifteen trees. And we’ve lost another 25 feet since then. I’m just worried none of it will be here when I get back.”

Holmes told the Seattle Times he took a flashlight to the backyard facing the water. His flashlight battery died; when he returned with a new flashlight, he told The Times, “where I had been standing was no longer there.”

A two-lane road in the neighborhood was wiped out and pushed 300 feet down the slope.

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