Puget Sound poised for epic landslide

by: Lee Stoll Updated:

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. - It's been a near-record season for devastating mudslides in Western Washington.  Homes have been destroyed. Dozens more are now on the edge of cliffs.  The worst may still be ahead.

"That's where the mud came in first,” said Richard Lord.  Lord was home with his dog when a wall of mud crashed into his Mukilteo house in 2011.

Two years later, KIRO 7 Eyewitness News reporter Lee Stoll went back to see what’s left.

Stoll:  "How much money are you out?”

Lord: "You're looking over $1 million dollars -- million one, million two," said Lord.

Thieves have stolen wiring, appliances -- anything not nailed down.

"They took the dishwasher, they took the sink, they took some of the doors,” said Lord.

Stoll: “There's no federal aid, no disaster relief?”

 Lord: "Nothing.  We went to lawyers.  One lawyer said ‘pack your bags and leave.’"

Now, he worries his neighbors face the same fate.

In 1998, a slow-moving landslide started to undercut a Kelso neighborhood in southwest Washington.

A year later, 137 homes were condemned.

FEMA declared the state’s first landslide disaster and divided $4.7 million among the evacuees.

Stoll asked Snohomish Emergency Management Director John Pennington "Could that happen here?" 

 "Yeah, I think it can,” said Pennington.

We walked through a Mukilteo neighborhood where roads and sidewalks are cracking.  Yards have been covered in protective plastic.

“I'm more concerned about the people that are in the homes and how we can assist them through some grant programs, and to get to that point, we have to look at a declaration process from the federal government, which is not easy,” said Pennington.

Local officials have declared the coastline between Everett and Mukilteo a red zone -- the center of a new 10-15-year slide cycle.

More than 700 structures worth a combined $530 million are in that zone.

"If things get worse, the city will come and condemn them,” said Barry Nilsen, a local project engineer.

Forty homeowners in the red zone have already asked his company to shore up retaining walls and inspect their slopes.

That’s enough work to keep him busy for five years.

"There was too much greed of people wanting view property and building on loose fill and I think they got away with a lot of stuff in the 60s, 70s, 80s,” said Nilsen.

 The state adopted the Growth Management Act in 1990, which tightened permit rules.

Most homes in slide zones now need a geological survey which could cost thousands of dollars.

It all comes out of the homeowner’s pocket.

"We had 5-10 inquiries of people looking at property but they were wise to know to have us go out and give them a preemptive bid ahead of time,” said Nilsen.

Pennington is not telling people to evacuate.

He is warning homeowners to evaluate their property,

"If as an example, we turned the camera and saw a small piece of land moving, and it's the first time that anyone has seen it, you should report that.  Let's identify it, get it into the system,” said Pennington.

Richard Lord doesn’t want anyone to wait until it’s too late to walk away.

"If you can emotionally let it go, just do it.  You could lose your life there,” said Lord.