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Creeping landslide devouring part of Wyoming town

Slow-Moving Landslide Splits Wyo. House In Two

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) -- What's happening in this Wyoming resort town might be better described as a land creep than a landslide, but the lack of speed has not hindered the sheer power of the moving earth.

Over the past two weeks, a piece of East Gros Ventre Butte has slowly collapsed toward the west side of Jackson - shearing one hillside home in half, threatening to devour several others and looming ever more ominously over a cluster of businesses below.

No one can say precisely when the mountainside will cease its slow droop into Jackson or finally give way. But it appears increasingly likely that it's going to take a piece of Jackson with it.

Emergency workers have tried in vain to shore up slow-moving slope, attracting a steady parade of the curious and camera-wielding gawkers.

"We don't know what Mother Nature wants to do here. She's shown us quite a bit," Jackson Fire Chief Willy Watsabaugh said as he stood at the edge of the slide zone, its rocky slope rising sharply behind him.

The rate of movement slowed Saturday, giving crews a chance to get back in and reassess the damage, Watsabaugh said. The chief said he's seen many slides in the mountains around Jackson but never one in town.

Town officials first noticed significant hill movement on April 4. They evacuated 42 homes and apartment units on April 9.

Workers and residents had watched helplessly on Thursday and Friday as a sudden acceleration of movement prompted authorities to suspend their efforts to shore up the slope as falling rocks created a hazard.

Work resumed over the weekend with a new focus: repairing some of the damage the slide already has caused, including a break in a sewer line on Friday. On Saturday evening, officials postponed the sewer line work until Monday because of access issues.

Bart Moudy, a construction manager from Etna, a town south of Jackson, said he has been keeping a close eye on the slide as the small cracks initially seen at the top of the slope widened.

"It's a little reminder of where we live - in a dynamic region," he said. "It's amazing. We were looking at on Friday, and it's moved a bunch since then."

Authorities are looking into whether recent construction at the foot of East Gros Ventre Butte made the slope unstable. They say there could be a variety of other causes, including prior construction at the site, warmer weather and a wet winter that put more water into the ground, where it acts as a lubricant for unstable rocks and soil.

By Saturday morning, the shifting earth had caused bulges in a road and a parking lot at the foot of the hill that were as big as 10 feet. The groundswell pushed a small town water pump building 15 feet toward West Broadway, the town's main drag.

Because of its more stable geology, the slope is unlikely to suddenly collapse like the March 22 landslide in Oso, Wash., that killed 39 people, experts said. More likely, large blocks of earth would tumble down piece by piece.

The ground had been moving initially at a rate of an inch a day. That's is expected to speed up as time goes on, said George Machan, a landslide specialist consulting for the town.

Rockslides are common in the surrounding Rocky Mountains in the spring, when melting snow and warmer weather unleash the region's dynamic geology. In the early 1920s, a massive slide caused by heavy rains north of Jackson formed a natural dam across a small river. The dam gave way two years later, unleashing a flood that killed six people.

But other factors appear to be in play on East Gros Ventre Butte, a small mountain that looms over the west side of town, its base dotted with homes and businesses.

The area of the landslide has been graded for roads and businesses in recent years, including a new Walgreens. That could have weakened the hillside and set the stage for its collapse.

Landslides in scenic, mountainous areas like Jackson are a lot like the wildfires that occur in the same areas. Both hazards are natural events that present more of a problem when people move in and build subdivisions or shopping areas.

"When you add it up, it's actually a major geological hazard," said David Montgomery, a geology professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. "As more people move into more mountainous environments, the opportunities for interactions between human infrastructure and people, and landslides, increase."

Join the discussion

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thomashollman19 April 20 2014 at 10:30 PM

THEY COULD MAKE A TOURIST PARK HERE . MOVE IN THE LEANING TOWER OF PIZA AND BRAG ABOUT ALL THE MONEY THEY SAVED ON SOIL TESTING They better not give one dime of taxpayer money on aid for rebuilding this area like the people that lose everything when a riverbank over flows and then the taxpayers are made to rebuild and the same thing happens again this is not right and not fair to taxpayers. Should be that you live there at your own risk. You can't fix stupid!

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AsianPlanet April 20 2014 at 1:39 PM

Nature at its best.

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LENWELL April 20 2014 at 1:15 PM

Mother Nature is unpredictable but in the face of the terrible tragedies of late shouldn't we be more attentive to where we build our communities, i.e. not in flood plains, on unstable mountainsides, on the seashore, areas subject to wildfires etc. Disaster can strike anywhere but some areas are more susceptible than others and maybe we can minimize the terrible loss of life and property by better planning with regard to where we build our homes.

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1 reply
Irish LENWELL April 20 2014 at 1:24 PM

Sometimes the mountains have been in place for hundreds of years and are so enticing for certain people to live near them. Others love the ocean waters that can be so calming and then others just like the 'flat earth' where they can grow fruits and vegetables. The 'earth' provides choices for all of us. Did any of you take a chance at that? Personally, I like the earth. Don't care for the big waters at all. I always called it: the Big Sink to my children whenever I would take them to te 'waters' which was right down the hill from where I raised my 4 kids. Reply to this. Would love to hear any reply.

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mokuaraki April 20 2014 at 1:13 PM

Jackson is a cool town. The Rocky Mountains are going to do what they want. A price to pay in paradise or anywhere else one happens to live. We are just renting what is mother natures in the first place. Just deal and enjoy the beauty.

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1 reply
LiliSue mokuaraki April 20 2014 at 2:11 PM

Very well said....
"Every form of refuge has its price tag. To know what it is, is a whole different "bag-o-beans".

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cbart164 April 20 2014 at 1:04 PM

Well, what did they expect when they built something where it should never be?

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EzinWy April 20 2014 at 1:00 PM

Mother Nature 1,276,495,380
Mankind 0

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Ed Tarrant April 20 2014 at 11:56 AM

Leave Mother Nature alone, she gets mad when you mess with her dress, that is the way she wants it. hills valleys and dictches, they serve her purpose.

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Butch April 20 2014 at 11:16 AM

Even as a child, I could see people building homes in slide areas. You saw where the water had done damage close by, creating canyons. Duh. Don't build or buy in flood zone, don't build on side of mountain, or in forest know for fires, don't live on the corner or near vacant lot, or back on to street..all rules of thumb.

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lasiraque April 20 2014 at 5:50 PM

Anyone ever visited Jackson? Like so many other mountain resort towns, its overbuilt and crowded. Lots of ugly commercial buildings including fast food, motels and box drug and grocery stores. Developers cannot allow a square foot of land or trees to exist. Tear it all out and build more multimillion dollar properties for the good folks at Southeby Realty to sell off. Money is the only thing that matters. The politicians are in the pockets of the rich - so it never stops. Jackson cant attract gazillionaires if all of the construction is under dirt, so eventually we may see another western ghost town? At least it will have a history to look back on.

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1 reply
Kim lasiraque April 21 2014 at 1:08 AM

So true. They could all take a tip from Telluride. They dont allow that sort of craziness and they are rich, too.

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bjredmond64 April 20 2014 at 10:45 AM

will they be smart enough to get out BEFORE it hurts someone?

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3 replies
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