SEATTLE - Residents of a hillside overlooking scenic Puget Sound heard the thunder of a large landslide early Wednesday that knocked one home off its foundation and isolated or threatened more than two dozen others on Whidbey Island, about 50 miles north of Seattle.
A man who escaped from the damaged home was evacuated by rescuers in an all-terrain vehicle, Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue Chief Ed Hartin said. Some people are completely cut off from their properties.
Many of the homes are summer cabins or weekend getaways and were unoccupied. Some are larger, upscale properties, and others are more modest dwellings.
Eleven people from 16 homes along a road close to the water were evacuated by boat because the road was blocked by the landslide, he said.
And another 20 to 25 people were evacuated from 17 homes along a road higher up the hill that is being undermined by the slide. Land is falling away just 10 feet from one home.
No one was injured when the slide broke loose about 4 a.m. in the Ledgewood community. One person was taken to a hospital with a condition unrelated to the slide.
The cause of the slide is unknown.
Residents who heard the slide about eight miles south of Coupeville described it to KOMO-TV as sounding like thunder.
"It was a mix of rumbling and snapping trees," Hartin said. "We were hearing the same thing when we arrived."
On Wednesday afternoon, the slide still showed signs of movement, Hartin said.
"It's possible more homes could be lost. We're trying to ensure the safety and awareness of people," Hartin said. "There's not anything we can do to stop the movement of the ground."
Whidbey Island is about 35 miles long, north to south, and just a mile or two wide in places east to west.
The slide area extends about 400 to 500 yards across the hillside and down 600 or 700 yards to the water, Hartin said.
There has been no significant rain in recent days, so the cause of the slide was not immediately unknown. But the area has been prone to slides in the past, Hartin said.
A geotechnical expert was being brought in to assess the slide and the danger to homes. If the slide stabilizes, some people might be allowed to return. But others have homes that are now unreachable.
"Being cut off from the road, water and power," residents had to leave, said Island County Sheriff Mark Brown. "It's a pretty massive mudslide."
The island offers picturesque farm and water views and has a population of about 60,000.
"It's possible more homes could be lost. We're trying to ensure the safety and awareness of people. There's not anything we can do to stop the movement of the ground."
Ed Hartin, Central Whidbey fire and rescue chief