This hillside is stabilizing, but it will still be months before 17 homeowners can have full access to their properties after Wednesday’s massive landslide on the south end of Whidbey Island.
On Thursday, emergency crews reduced the danger zone to a handful of homes perched precariously atop the bluff that gave way. Emergency managers said it was a slide of historic proportions for Island County.
“We’ve had big slides, but nothing of this magnitude in recent history,” said Chief Ed Hartin of Central Whidbey Island Fire & Rescue.
One home is a total loss, four others have been “yellow tagged,” meaning homeowners have only limited access and cannot stay overnight. Seventeen more were cut-off from the island when the slide destroyed their only road in and out.
For Morgan Bell, a sloppy, 10-minute slog down a muddy trail is the only way she can get to the home she shares with her 80-year-old mother.
“Yesterday, we were pretty much stunned, taking it a day at a time," Bell said. "As the night wore on you kind of come to the reality of it.”
That reality is breathtaking. 5.3-million square feet of earth moved in a matter of moments.
Island County will have to build a new road to reconnect the neighbors to the rest of their community, but first they must wait for the hillside to stabilize. Emergency managers are bringing in a drill to test water levels, but that won't arrive until next week. Then there's the issue of whether it's worth it to build a new road at all.
“Typically when the road is taken out by a slide you don't put the road back in the same place,” said Chief Hartin. “The problem is, there's not a lot of other places to put the road.”
There is also the issue of people’s cars. Most of those evacuated left their vehicles behind and now have no way to get them out.
An Island County spokesman said they are working on a plan to crudely pave a trail with gravel, creating a single lane road to give automobiles access. That, however, will take several weeks.
Meantime, Morgan Bell made her way down that mucky trail and gathered up her mom's medications, walker and clothes, and wondered whether they'll ever live here again.
“We're all pretty stressed. I try not to go there,” she said. “There are people from the hurricane [Sandy] who still don’t have homes. So, you take it a day at a time and rely on the kindness of strangers.”