Landslide, among state’s worst, still on the move


How massive was the landslide Wednesday that took down a chunk of a beach cliff on the west side of Whidbey Island?

Enough to fill a football field 90 feet high with dirt.

“I’d call it among the Top 5 in the last 20 years,” says Tim Walsh, hazards chief for the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

State geologists estimate some 5.3 million square feet of earth were moved by the slide at the Ledgewood Beach development.

The ground continued to move Thursday.

Luckily, no one was injured in the slide that startled some residents with a rumbling noise some thought to be an earthquake.

Geologists from the state Department of Natural Resources say the slide area is part of a much larger landslide complex that may date back as far as 11,000 years.

They say the landslide into Puget Sound lifted the beach as much as 30 feet above the previous shoreline.

It moved one beachside home — now deemed uninhabitable — some 200 feet off its foundation, says Eric Brooks, deputy director for emergency management at Island County.

It also took out 300 to 400 feet of a road leading to the beach, leaving 17 homes not reachable and without power because the slide also took out the utility poles.

Brooks says two of those beach homes will be “yellow tagged,” meaning the residents can retrieve possessions but not stay overnight.

On the cliff above, two more homes have been yellow-tagged, he says. Damage estimates weren’t available.

Crews have been widening a foot trail to the beach, and have started dumping gravel on it, Brooks says.

“Within a couple of weeks, you’ll be able to take a four-wheel vehicle on it,” he says.

Next, he says, Puget Sound Energy has to figure out how to get electricity back to those homes. The pipe that brings water from up above to the beach homes was undamaged.

The massive slide was estimated by state geologists as being 1,000 feet across. It felled not only the power poles, but also dozens of large trees.

“The trees down there looked like Pick Up Sticks,” says Bret Holmes, who had been staying at the home of his late father and stepmother and getting it ready for sale.

His father, a retired airline pilot, had bought the original elegant country home owned by Robert Keith, who began developing Ledgewood Beach in 1952. There are 175 lots in the development.

The Holmes property on Fircrest Avenue was one of those on the bluff, with a magnificent view of Admiralty Inlet. Its manicured backyard was sheared off by the slide.

Holmes said Wednesday that some 75 feet had dropped off. He and his dog moved with a few belongings to a nearby home offered to him by a neighbor not using it.

Holmes says that when he returned to check on it Thursday, “More had fallen off, another 10 feet.”

The state says it expects the slide to keep moving for several weeks, or more.

Al Toth, 88, has been living in the development since 1969.

A retired real-estate agent, he remembers selling large view lots there in those early years for $4,000. He and his wife, Barbara, also live on Fircrest Avenue, though his property was not affected by the slide, he says.

“Today some of those lots are assessed at $200,000,” Toth says.

Well, he adds, maybe not after this week’s happenings.

Just like many residents in the development, Toth carries no landslide insurance.

He says he did talk to an insurance buddy after the slide about the possibility of such insurance.

For a home on a bluff at Ledgewood Beach?

In your dreams, was basically the answer, Toth says.