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Slides continue in beleaguered Whidbey Shores neighborhood
Smaller mudslides continued through the night Monday in the wake of a large slide this past weekend that blocked East Point Drive, hit two houses and damaged two vehicles in the Whidbey Shores waterfront neighborhood north of Langley.
“It kept sliding all last night,” said Dale Strickland, a South End excavator who has worked to clear the road since Saturday afternoon. He said he had been on the job on the lower portion of the road next to the beach until 8 p.m. Monday, and was heading back Tuesday afternoon.
“If we get another gully washer, we’re going to have more slides,” Strickland said Tuesday morning. “There’s nothing we can do but wait and see.”
The first, and largest, slide hit about noon on Saturday. Mud, sand and vegetation, including trees, tumbled from a rain-saturated steep bluff more than 300 feet high, blocking the road with a pile of material 100 feet wide and 10 feet tall in places.
The slide pushed around and damaged a station wagon and slammed into a pickup truck, and piled mud and debris against two houses on the other side of the road. A light pole on the slope side of the road had a chest-high coat of mud left in the wake of the slide. Paving stones and landscaping were washed away in a wave of debris that includes trees and other vegetation from the fallen hillside.
The slide also pushed over three large propane tanks in front of one of the houses, one of which sprung a leak in its connecter, said Deputy Chief Mike Cotton of Island County Fire District 3.
Cotton said the leak was sealed, and the tanks eventually were taken away by the propane vendor.
No one was injured in the slide, Cotton said Monday. He said the residents of the two houses struck by debris were made aware of the gas situation, but were not evacuated.
Pat Ehlers, her husband Ron and son Brett were on the lower level of their three-level house about noon on Saturday when the mud hit their propane tanks, and then the building.
“We heard a thud,” Pat Ehlers said Monday. “We went up there and looked, and there was a lot of the bank in our front yard.”
She said their house didn’t appear to be damaged, other than the yard.
By Monday, Strickland, whose company, Dirt Movers, operates out of the South End, had removed most of the slide material from the yard.
But with their power off and no propane, the Ehlerses decided to relocate to a motel in Freeland on Saturday night. Pat Ehlers said Monday that they will move into a friend’s cabin in the area until their house is usable again.
“It’s an experience one could live without, but nobody got hurt and we’re OK,” Ehlers said. “At least it wasn’t a tsunami like in Japan. I don’t have much to complain about.”
Meanwhile, Strickland, who has contracted with homeowners in the area for years, worked 20 hours straight clearing the mud from the road during the weekend. He was back Monday, finishing off the large blockage and trying to keep up with several smaller slides as the rain continued to fall.
Strickland said he has removed a huge amount of mud and debris from the road and has stockpiled it on any appropriate flat area he could find. He said he has kept the road mostly passable since Sunday.
He also said he has attempted to remove trees on the lower part of the bank that have been weakened by the slide and may pose a danger to power lines.
Strickland said the weather forecast calls for more rain, but with a drier spell expected later in the week.
“When it dries up, we’ll come in and clean up the mess,” he said.
Ehlers, who has lived at Whidbey Shores full-time for five years, said neighbors told her it was the worst slide in the area since 1997, when a mudslide pushed a house into the surf.
Mike Simmons, of the county’s Department of Emergency Management, said he visited Whidbey Shores on Saturday to make sure residents were OK.
Simmons said slides are not uncommon in areas where there are sand and gravel bluffs that become saturated with water during rainy periods.
“You expect it once in a while,” he said. “It’s just a fact of life on Whidbey Island.”