North Salt Lake landslide leaves residents on edge

Tuesday , August 05, 2014 - 4:55 PM

By ANDREAS RIVERA Standard-Examiner staff

NORTH SALT LAKE — A ½ million dollar home crumbled to the ground under the pressure of a landslide and more than 20 homes were evacuated early Tuesday morning. By afternoon residents held their breath as thunderstorms rolled into the already active hillside. Some residents are saying homes never should have been built in the area, but the city says when the homes were built the area was deemed geologically stable.

Marcus Zafhcas, a neighbor who lives on Parkway Drive above the slide, said the cause is obviously over-development and that the city should have known for years the hillside was a bad place to build. 

“Anyone with half-common sense could tell that this land was unsafe,” Zafhcas said.

North Salt Lake city crews are working to protect surrounding threatened homes from mother nature.

City officials said the slide continues to slowly move and they have known about the unstable ground for some time. 

City Manager Barry Edwards said cracks in the earth were visible last fall and they have been working to help stabilize the area since then.

When asked by news media who was at fault, Edwards responded, “We’re not in the blame business.”

Although the area was deemed safe by geological surveys, North Salt Lake Mayor Len Arave said there are risks to building a home anywhere. The homes in the area are about one to three years old.

“When someone buys a home, they need to be aware of the risks.” 

Below is the city’s mitigation plan moving forward.

Mitigation Plan for North Salt Lake Landslide

The home on Parkway Drive crumbled after rain-saturated soil from the hill above started piling up behind it at around 6 a.m. Tuesday. The hill is located above the Eagle Ridge Tennis and Swim Club.

The total slide was determined to be 400 to 500 feet wide.

No injuries have been reported.

The National Weather Service is forecasting heavy rain, gusty winds and lightning this evening along the Wasatch Front.

Witnesses say the house was pushed away from its foundation by the moving earth. 

“It looked like it was bursting at the seams,” said neighbor Julie Chapman.

Chapman and her family were among the many residents evacuated. Residents say they have heard rumbling coming from the hillside for days prior to the slide.

Chapman is an office manager for the club and was at work when she heard the rumbling.

“It was so loud, like nothing I’ve ever heard before,” she said.

The slide also caused damage to one of the enclosed tennis courts. A tournament at the club was scheduled for this week, but has since been moved.

Scott Betts was at work when he got the call from his wife that the neighborhood was being evacuated. He rushed home, and she had already gathered their children and essential belongings in the front yard to be moved.

“Luckily we weren't in the path of the slide,” he said. “It was probably a wise move (to evacuate), given the amount of earth that moved.”

Evacuations are taking place around the area north of 706 Parkway Drive.

North Salt Lake Police said the ground around the adjacent home is still unstable and it is currently unknown how long evacuations will take place. 

On Tuesday afternoon Eagleridge Tennis & Swim Club posted on their Facebook page that they will be closed until further notice.

Workers finished building a berm above the ridge line in hopes of redirecting rain water away from the slide, which could make it dangerously active again. 

Officials are waiting for the storm cell to pass before assessing whether or not residents can return to their home. Four homes that are still in immediate danger will remain evacuated for an indeterminate amount of time.

Utilities in the area were shut down to prevent any other complications.

An evacuation center for those displaced by the landslide was set up a church at 351 Lofty Lane, just a few blocks from Parkway Drive. Residents were briefly allowed to gather important items from their home, but as of 8:30 a.m., only authorized personnel were allowed near the wreckage.

Late last night city crews were above the slide trying to shore up the hillside. 

Neighbors say a large housing development has been working on the ridge above the neighborhood for some time now, trying to secure the land for construction. It is unknown if it is directly connected to the landslide.

Crews are investigating the cause of the slide and what went wrong. Until that time the city will review geological studies and are indefinitely “suspending any new development” on the ridge to make sure when it is safe to build again.

Some residents noted the similarity between this slide and the 2012 Springhill Landslide that occurred a few streets over. The 290 feet wide, slide destroyed multiple homes. The city received a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for disaster relief.

Officials said the slides were very different and that it was uncertain if they will receive the same treatment they did before.

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