CHEYENNE, Wyo. – A slow-moving landslide in the Wyoming resort town of Jackson sped up significantly Friday, splitting a house in two, causing a huge uplift in a road and a Walgreens parking lot, and threatening to destroy several other unoccupied homes and businesses.
The 100-foot-high hillside is unlikely to liquefy and collapse suddenly like the March 22 landslide in Oso, Wash., that killed 39 people, a geologist said at a town meeting Friday. But large blocks of earth could tumble down one piece at a time, presenting a drawn-out threat to four homes on the hill and to two apartment buildings and four businesses below, said George Machan, a landslide specialist consulting for the town.
“Is it weeks? Is it longer? I really don’t know,” Machan said. “I think it’s really unpredictable how long it might take. I don’t expect it to end in a day.”
He said geologists were still trying to fully understand the mechanics of the slide.
Friday morning, a crack that ran beneath one house vacant for the past year shifted downward several feet and split the structure in two, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reported. Inside the home, floor planks have been coming apart and cabinets have been falling off the walls for the past two weeks. Three nearby homes also are in the high-risk zone.
Town officials first noticed significant hill movement April 4. They evacuated 42 homes and apartment units April 9, when the slide was moving at about an inch a day.
By Friday, the rate had surged to a foot a day. Overnight, the shifting earth had bulged a road and a parking lot at the foot of the hill by as much as 10 feet. The groundswell pushed a small town water pump building 15 feet toward West Broadway, the town’s main drag.
A large crack continued to widen near the four homes at highest risk partway up East Gros Ventre Butte, a small mountain on the west side of town. Meanwhile, a steady stream of rock and dirt tumbled off the hill gouged with fresh gullies.
Efforts to slow the slide – such as pouring rock and dirt fill behind large, L-shaped concrete barriers arranged in a line at the base of the slide – were on hold to keep workers out of the danger zone.
“It’s really not safe to put people out there. You try to do what you can, but at some point you’re really restricted from entering the area,” Machan said.
On a town webcam, pedestrians could be seen pausing in the rain now and then to gawk at the slide zone that’s as big as three or four football fields. Cars and trucks on West Broadway also slowed occasionally, the cause of at least one fender-bender Friday and a police warning for lollygaggers.
“Everybody’s looking over there instead of looking where they’re driving,” Lt. Cole Nethercott said.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.