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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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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".

Flag Reply 0 rate up
lhoward530 April 20 2014 at 4:20 PM

What caused the landslide? It doesn't take an engineer to figure out that if you keep carving out the bottom of a hillside, something's got to give . .and it did.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
2 replies
M lhoward530 April 20 2014 at 5:54 PM

Or...

You can add weight to the top of the hill, like a building maybe?
Then, just for good measure, (*smirk*) you could cut away part of the base by putting a road and some other buildings there too, like the article mentioned a Walgreens, (naturally with parking lot)...



An apartment complex developer bought some land (probably cheap, too!) on a property overlooking a creek, (dirt, not rock), and built four three-story apartment buildings there. Before any of the four buildings were completely finished, never mind occupied, one began leaning toward the creek. within a week, the lean had gone to over 20 degrees from vertical, and yellow CAUTION tape encircled all four buildings. All this was easily seen from a busy four lane highway less than 200 yards from the nearest of the four buildings.

About two weeks later, the leaning 2-dozen unit apartment building was demolished, (or maybe just broke itself apart?). Three days later, even the slab was gone. The other three buildings are now occupied, and still remain there, about ten years later...
For the time being.

I wonder if anyone told the residents about the fourth building before they moved into their apartments?
Because it was farther from the newly added streets, it was the first one started, and perhaps the first one to creep down toward the creekbed...


There is ignorant, and there is stupid, and somewhere in between are gullible, and trusting.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
M lhoward530 April 20 2014 at 6:17 PM

Wow!
Throw in the effects of next winter's freeze and thaw cycle, and what is left will not be very much.

Let's recap here...
Even though the home wasn't built *at the edge*, (just near), it DID add weight to the top of the hill.
The road was built at, or in, the base area of the hill.
The Walgreens and the other businesses and parking lots were built, also in or at the base of the hill.
Somewhere along the way, the water main was built, probably parallel to the road.
And all that construction certainly changed the water drainage over and through the hillside, affecting the winter cycle of freezing/thawing.

Now then, who could POSSIBLY have forseen what **MIGHT** happen? Just like what IS happenning now...

After all, certainly the vibrations from the road traffic, and maybe even the water passing through the water main, and the winter freeze/thaw cycles every year, plus the changes in weight and support from construction all had NOTHING to do with the landslide.
The video says "So far, officials aren't sure WHAT caused the landslide".
Maybe there are just too many possible causes to choose between?


(**smirk**)

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Kruelhunter April 20 2014 at 10:17 AM

So the mere fact that these actions have failed to stop the earth's movement do not deter the intrepid politicians from spending even more taxpayer money in a pointless exercise. Perhaps a better solution to this problem would be for the affected individuals to relocate away from the slide area once its limits have been determined. Or perhaps the insurance policies don't insure against "acts of god" like landslides and so the people involved expect the taxpayers of the county, state and even the nation to continue to try to thwart natural processes and damn the expense.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
cpenrod April 20 2014 at 10:12 AM

And they call "that" progress.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
sulandherb April 20 2014 at 10:10 AM

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure".
-Helen Keller

that about sums it up

Flag Reply +1 rate up
trmnatr2 April 20 2014 at 10:03 AM

A mountain becomes a mountain by the movement of the earth, this is nothing new, the earth is constantly moving. If you live in a flood zone, a flood is to be expected, coastal area in the south, a hurricane, flat lands east of the rockies, a tornado. Nature will always remind us it's there and it can be powerful.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
1 reply
James Zilch trmnatr2 April 20 2014 at 10:19 AM

That is just too simple. Many may just not understand. Grass grows, flowers bloom, trees have leaves and criminals commit crimes. We should not be so surprised. We live in a area where there are beautiful bluffs and people think that they need to build massive high end homes on the edge of the bluffs. In some(too many) cases we are our own worst enemy.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
macdonnall April 20 2014 at 5:17 PM

Common sense says that vegatation and trees hold soil in place. Cut down the tree and carve out the bottom of the hill; and nature does what nature normally does. Sorry, but people cause their own problem; then try to blame someone else. Build your home away from such dangers.

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1 reply
Sandy macdonnall April 20 2014 at 7:10 PM

It just amazes me how many people don't understand how things work in nature!! It amazes me how many people allow things to go wrong by their lack of knowledge or understanding.
Here's a good one....in the landscape business it is important to know what direction a house faces in order to properly install landscape plants. A client was arguing with me about plant location. I was trying to explain to her that a particular (expensive) plant would not do well on the west (hottest) side of her home in Arizona, but that it would do well on the eastern side and up closer to the house where it would be shaded in the hot afternoon. Anyway, after doing much drawing and many examples in attempt to get her to understand reality, this woman was so insistent in having her own way that she actually told me that the sun rises in the west at her house!!!!!!
All a person can do is shake their head!!!

Flag Reply 0 rate up
lookatutwo April 20 2014 at 5:24 PM

What caused the landslide? Gravit. Turns mountains to plains

Flag Reply +1 rate up
M April 20 2014 at 6:09 PM

Wow!
Throw in the effects of next winter's freeze and thaw cycle, and what is left will not be very much.

Let's recap here...
Even though the home wasn't built at the edge, it DID ad weight to the top of the hill.
The road was built at, or in, the base area of the hill.
The Walgreens and the other businesses and parking lots were built, also in or at the base of the hill.
Somewhere along the way, the water main was built, probably parallel to the road.

Now then, who could POSSIBLY have forseen what **MIGHT** happen? Just like what IS happenning now...

After all, certainly the vibrations from the road traffic, and maybe even the water passing through the water main, and the winter freeze/thaw cycles every year, plus the changes in weight and support from construction all had NOTHING to do with the landslide.
The video says "So far, officials aren't sure WHAT caused the landslide". Maybe there are too many possible causes to choose between?


(**smirk**)

Flag Reply +4 rate up
salesfouraba April 20 2014 at 9:43 AM

I have been to Jackson, I did'nt think that there were any hills there, LOL

Flag Reply +1 rate up
2 replies
Michael L Welch salesfouraba April 20 2014 at 10:13 AM

Dont think thats the same Jackson thAT YOU WAS IN!! iTS SURROUNDED BY MOUNTAINS!!!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Jim Dawson salesfouraba April 20 2014 at 10:14 AM

It is surrounded by hills and mountains

Flag Reply +2 rate up
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