Tuesday, February 3, 2009
A landslide that started Monday morning and continued throughout the day amazed onlookers and led to the evacuation of the Washington Gorge Action Programs Guided Path shelter east of downtown Bingen.
Rocks, dirt, and trees could be seen (and heard) falling most of the day, as different sections of the hillside gave way intermittently with showers of debris.
David Duncombe, a member of the Board of Directors of Washington Gorge Action Programs (WGAP), said he arrived at the Guided Path facility at about 9 a.m. on Monday and heard the sound of clattering rocks. At first he thought there was a big gravel operation going on up the hill.
"Some residents said they heard something during the night, but at about 9 a.m. it really began to come down," Duncombe said. "It was kind of scary. Some boulders were coming pretty close to the back fence of our property."
Due to concern over potential danger from falling rocks, Linda Schneider, executive director of WGAP, decided to close the Guided Path shelter on Monday to ensure the safety of residents of the transitional housing facility.
About a dozen people were evacuated. Most of them were taken to Hood River and put up in motels for the night.
"We got everybody out by about 11 a.m. or so," Duncombe said. "I think Linda was right to evacuate. We didn't know what was happening, and there was great concern about the stability of that hillside."
The area where the slide took place is owned by the Kreps family and by SDS Lumber Co.
"The slide is on Kreps property and coming down onto SDS property," said Frank Backus of SDS. "There is a natural slip line in there. Every winter, more and more is going to come down. That area hasn't released its pressure yet."
The site has been used by SDS as a gravel pit over recent decades. Backus said gravel operations began on the site about 40-45 years ago, and the material coming down is filling the pit area.
SDS representatives said they had inspected the hillside and determined it was safe for residents to move back into the Guided Path housing units.
"There isn't any risk we can discern for anything coming off our property. It's funneling back into the pit area," Backus explained.
Law enforcement officials said there appeared to be no danger of material reaching State Route 14.
Small groups of people gathered at the Bingen Marina to watch the ongoing activity.
"It was an amazing thing to see. Such a broad area was coming down, it must have been two or three football fields wide," Duncombe said.