Landslide destroys Utah home; 27 evacuated

Associated Press

NORTH SALT LAKE, Utah (AP) — One home was destroyed and 27 others were evacuated after a landslide early Tuesday struck an upscale suburban Salt Lake City community, where officials had worried for nearly a year about cracked soil on the hillside above the houses.

Nobody was injured, but three North Salt Lake houses remained in immediate danger with more rains expected later in the day, said Jeff Bassett, chief of the South Davis Metro Fire Department. 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 other parts of Utah and Nevada. On Tuesday, cleanup was underway in Carbon County, southeast of Salt Lake City, after flooding damaged about 100 homes.

In North Salt Lake, residents of the manicured neighborhood near a tennis and swim club said they could hear the hillside rumbling hours before it tumbled.

Sounds of rocks and landscaping crashing into the back of the two-story house started at about 5:30 a.m., said Steven Peterson, 64, who lives across the street from the crushed home.

The 2,960-square-foot home was built in 2012 and was worth about $415,000, county property tax records show. 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.

"It was very eerie and very frightening, and we knew the mountain was coming down," Peterson said. "We all sat on the porch and watched their house collapse. ... It started very slowly and then it got louder and louder."

Images showed the beige home pushed onto the driveway and over large landscaping rocks. Walls were ripped from the roof, and windows were blown out. A large, half-moon-shaped chunk of land was missing from the hill above.

Cracking in the soil above the houses was first spotted in fall 2013, Ottoson said. Geotechnical engineers and representatives from the home developer went to assess the situation, he 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.

North Salt Lake is a city of about 17,000 people 10 minutes north of Salt Lake.

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, officials said.

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."

The homes were approved after city officials reviewed a geotechnical report submitted by developers, Ottoson said. Developers can hire their own geotechnical team so long as they are licensed by the state, he said.

Edwards said further development on the hillside will be halted until the cause of the landslide can be determined.

"We are going to have to stabilize that hill," Edwards said.

Meanwhile, in Carbon County, road crews started the cleanup effort and were providing hundreds of sandbags for people affected by a severe thunderstorm Monday night. The sheriff's office reported homes in the cities of Helper, Spring Glen and Carbonville were damaged, as well as the Westwood area.

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.

Many homeowners in the North Salt Lake area were nervous, 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.