"We knew the mountain was coming down"
Tuesday , August 05, 2014 - 4:30 PM
NORTH SALT LAKE — A landslide struck an upscale suburban Salt Lake City community on Tuesday, destroying a home and forcing evacuations as a rain-soaked hillside as wide as three football fields tumbled from above.
No one was hurt in the slide in North Salt Lake, where residents of the manicured neighborhood near a tennis and swim club said they could hear the hillside rumbling hours before it tumbled.
“It was very eerie and very frightening, and we knew the mountain was coming down,” said Steven Peterson, 64, who lives across the street from the crushed home. The 10 people who lived there — Peruvians who include young children and their grandparents in their 70s — went to Peterson’s house to escape danger.
“We all sat on the porch and watched their house collapse,” he said. “It started very slowly and then it got louder and louder.”
Images showed the 2,960-square-foot home pushed onto the driveway and over large landscaping rocks. Walls were ripped from the roof, and windows were blown out. Three homes remained in immediate danger with more rain expected later in the day, and city crews were moving loose soil, building a berm and draining nearby pools to divert afternoon rain in hopes of preventing another landslide.
The slide came as severe thunderstorms hit Utah and Nevada. On Tuesday, cleanup was underway in Carbon County, southeast of Salt Lake City, after flooding damaged about 100 homes. Road crews were cleaning up and providing hundreds of sandbags for people affected by a severe thunderstorm Monday night.
In Nevada, flooding closed roads on the edge of Las Vegas and at Death Valley National Park, as most of the state was under a flash flood watch with more rain in the forecast.
The landslide hit in North Salt Lake — a city of about 17,000 people 10 minutes north of Salt Lake — after officials had worried for nearly a year about cracked soil on the hillside above the houses.
Geotechnical engineers and representatives from the home developer went to assess the situation last fall, city engineer Paul Ottoson said.
“At the time, they decided the best thing to do would be to remove some of the soil on the steep slope so it wouldn’t be as steep and to help alleviate that pressure,” Ottoson said.
The cracking reoccurred this summer, however, causing major concerns for city officials who moved to seek bids from companies to go back up to the hill to remove more soil. That work had just begun but was halted by this week’s heavy rains, he said.
City manager Barry Edwards said the city sent homeowners a letter this week recommending that they protect their valuables. But nobody predicted the heavy rain that came down overnight.
Asked about who was at fault for failing to prevent the damage, Edwards said: “We’re not in the blame business. At this point we’re trying to mitigate disaster. We’re trying to save other houses.”
Edwards said further development on the hillside will be halted until the cause of the landslide can be determined.
In another neighborhood about a mile away, a deep, slow moving landslide that began in the 1990s cracked 17 homes over two decades, forcing the demolition of all of those houses, said Ken Leetham, the North Salt Lake Assistant City Manager. The final demolitions were finished within the past two years, and the area is now open space and off limits to construction, he said.
Many homeowners in the North Salt Lake area were nervous Tuesday afternoon, with heavy rain and thunderstorms forecast for the afternoon or evening, said Mike Conger, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.
Angie MacDonald, 36, and her husband moved in to the area in January with their twin 3-year-old daughters. They’ve been nervous since seeing construction crews working on the ridge over the past few months. They have not been evacuated, but it’s left them unsettled.
“It’s scary. It’s really scary, but it’s not shocking either,” MacDonald said. “It makes me wonder: Did we build in the right place?”
Associated Press writers Lindsay Whitehurst and Michelle Price in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.