Relative: 8 Utah family members escaped uninjured minutes before landslide crashed into home

Annie Knox And Brady McCombs / The Associated Press
August 6, 2014 07:19 PM

Residents are evacuated following a landslide in a hillside community of North Salt Lake, Utah, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. One home has been destroyed and at least a dozen others have been evacuated. (AP Photo/The Deseret News, Ravell Call) SALT LAKE TRIBUNE OUT; MAGS OUT

NORTH SALT LAKE, Utah - A relative of a Utah family that escaped minutes before a landslide slammed into their home says he is astonished and thankful that everyone scrambled out uninjured.

Eight people, including youngsters and grandparents in their 70s, were in the house when they heard the ridge behind them crack at about 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, said David Utrilla, the honorary Peruvian consulate in Salt Lake City.

All eight made it out safely before a 400-foot-wide chunk of dirt and rocks barrelled down the hillside and into the home, blowing out windows and ripping apart walls.

"If my father weren't to wake up" and rush the household across the street, Utrilla said, "we would be having a different type of catastrophe where lives were compromised as well."

The landslide collapsed the nearly 3,000-square-foot house, in a mountainside community north of Salt Lake City. Utrilla's mother and adult brother owned the home, but Utrilla did not live there.

It also forced the temporary evacuation of 27 homes.

Officials have told those residents it's best to stay elsewhere until further notice, though only three homes remain under mandatory evacuations. It could be up to a month before officials allow those families to return, North Salt Lake City Manager Barry Edwards said.

Utrilla's family is staying in a nearby home owned by the developer of their former home.

In a Wednesday meeting with city officials, neighbourhood residents asked how soon crews would raze the remaining slope and when geologists would know the likelihood of another slide. How much damage such an event would cause wasn't immediately clear.

Crews worked to move loose soil, build a barrier and drain pools to guard against more destruction after the slide. But officials said it would be a few days before geologists could determine future risks because they needed to wait for the ground to dry after rains.

The city declared a state of emergency Tuesday evening. Officials said they planned to ask the state for resources to guard against another round of slides, but Edwards said Wednesday the damage isn't costly enough to secure state aid.

Cracks appeared a year ago on the hillside above the homes. Crews removed soil last fall to make the slope less steep and alleviate pressure, city engineer Paul Ottoson said.

They reappeared earlier this summer, so a company began removing more soil in recent days, Ottoson said. That work halted during this week's heavy rains.

The city sent homeowners a letter this week recommending they protect their valuables. Some neighbours said they received the note a few days ago, while others said they received no such notice.

Further development on the hillside has been halted until the cause of the landslide becomes clear, Edwards said.

Eaglepointe Development, the company that has developed homes there extensively since 1999, said it conducted its work based on recommendations and approvals from the city and independent engineering companies.

On Wednesday, meeting attendees asked whether the city would change requirements for developers.

The slide shows the current system is "unstable the way it is right now, and that has to change," Edwards replied.

Ty Weston, who lives in the neighbourhood, said his family has been permitted to return home but is staying with friends instead. He praised emergency crews for rushing to help the neighbourhood but said he has little confidence the city could prevent more destruction.

"The main thing is, does my family feel safe in my home?" he said after the meeting. "That's really where the damage has been."

___

Associated Press writers Lindsay Whitehurst and Michelle Price in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.


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