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Landslide destroys one home; threatens more on Whidbey Island

An aerial photo shows a landslide near Coupeville, Wash. on Whidbey Island, Wednesday, March 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Geologists and engineers are assessing the stability of a scenic Puget Sound area after a large landslide thundered down a hillside, knocking one house off of its foundation and threatening 35 others.

That heavily damaged home and 33 others were ordered evacuated after the slide broke loose around 4 a.m. Wednesday in the Ledgewood community on Whidbey Island.

Eighteen homes remain inaccessible because of the massive landslide.

Five homes remained under evacuation orders Thursday afternoon, though most residents had limited access to retrieve belongings.

Crews worked to create a gravel walking path for people who still can’t reach their properties because of debris.

No damage estimates were yet available.

The ground is reportedly still moving.

“It’s possible more homes could be lost. We’re trying to ensure the safety and awareness of people,” said Chief Ed Hartin with Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue. “There’s not anything we can do to stop the movement of the ground.”

No one was injured in the slide Wednesday morning, said Hartin. One person from the home that was knocked off its foundation was evacuated by an all-terrain vehicle. About 10 more residents have been evacuated by boat. Hartin didn’t have a total number of people evacuated. One person was taken to a hospital with a condition unrelated to the slide.

The slide broke across 400 to 500 yards on a hillside and downhill 600 or 700 yards to the water, Hartin said.

“It’s kind of painful to look at it,” one homeowner said while looking down at the damage.

The slide took out a road, Driftwood Way, which is closest to the water, isolating 16 homes. Another 17 homes on an uphill road, Fircrest Avenue, are threatened by the mudslide which continued to move.

A relief center for displaced residents has been established at a nearby community center.

Hartin said the hillside is continuing to slide and the area will be isolated for the foreseeable future.

“I just can’t believe this,” another homeowner told KING 5 as the slide moved closer to her house. “I’m really nervous. This is all we have.”

There has been no significant rain in recent days so the immediate cause of the slide is unknown. But the area has been prone to slides in the past, Hartin said.

University of Washington geologist Terry Swanson told Seattle’s Morning News that this was a deep slide, much deeper than the one’s we normally see in the Northwest that are caused by heavy rains, and he says there is evidence the area has been slipping yearly, and is likely not done.

“You look at the length of this whole slide activity, not the slide that happened yesterday, but the entire complex there, it’s close to two miles long along the shoreline there,” said Swanson.

The slide area remains unstable.

A geotechnical engineer working for Island County and state Department of Natural Resources geologists took a preliminary look at the area Wednesday and hoped to complete a fuller assessment Thursday.

Area residents were briefed on the status of their homes at a meeting Wednesday night.

The NW Insurance Council issued a statement cautioning home and business owners that standard homeowners and business insurance policies specifically exclude damage caused by earth movement like a landslide.

Special landslide coverage is available for an added cost, said Karl Newman, council president.

KIRO Radio’s Chris Sullivan,’s Jamie Griswold and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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