Water leak likely caused house slide

Water leak likely caused house slide

Credit: KGW Sky-8 photo

This aerial photo shows the extent of the damage in the Southwest Portland neighborhood.




Posted on August 15, 2009 at 1:36 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 25 at 11:04 AM

PORTLAND - A water system leak was the most likely cause of a house that slid down a hill in southwest Portland Wednesday.

Because the slide moved in such a specific and linear fashion, PSU head geologist Scott Burns said it appears to be a man-caused landslide. Possibly a leaking water or sewer pipe or a breech in a two-year-old sprinkler system at the house that oversaturated the soil and caused it to give way.

The home that did slide was located at 6438 SW Burlingame Place. It somehow came off its foundation just before 6 a.m., Wednesday, slid downhill and crashed into a home situated just below it.

"The people at the bottom were noticing water running down their driveways the day before, what does that tell me? There's a lot of water coming out someplace on the upper part of the slope -- that is a key fact," Burns said.

A natural gas worker thinks he saw a void in the street at the top of the slide. The city is testing that possibility.

Neighbors heard the chaos as it escalated, then they heard wood creaking, crunching and snapping.

"It sounded like the garbage was going out, sliding across the street. Then I realized it was a lot more than that. I looked out the window -- we live right across the street from them -- and I saw the house, it just started to fall over backwards," recalled neighbor Greg Sherwood.

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Sherwood and several others called 9-1-1. A person can be heard screaming in the background of one of the calls.

Caller: "My next door neighbor's house just fell down the hill.

Dispatcher: "Your neighbor's house fell down the hill?"

Caller: "It fell down the hill! Kathy, get out of there!... I'm watching her, she's standing on top of the house."

Dispatcher: "How far did it fall?"

Caller: "It fell down the hillside, oh, it's still going! Kathy, come on... Kathy!"

Six families evacuated their homes after the slide and authorities said the main road through the area would be closed off 'indefinitely' until they can be sure more homes won't slide.

Neighbor Greg Sherwood told KGW he and another man helped rescue Kathy Hendrickson, who was alone inside her home when it broke loose.

Sherwood said Hendrickson heard noises and was trying to get out of the house when it began to slide and then fell backwards. He and a neighbor used a ladder to help get her off her fallen home.

Two other homes were hit before the sliding house came to a halt and amazingly, no one was seriously injured in either of those homes, either.

One of the homes that was struck actually moved off its foundation. The home came to a stop approximately 300 feet from its foundation on Burlingame, leaving a big, gaping hole where it once stood.

The houses have created such a scene that a Portland Fire and Rescue official said it was impossible to tell where one house ended and the others began.

At least a half-dozen homes have been evacuated in the area. No one in any of the other affected homes appears to have suffered injury, according to city officials.

Neighbors in this hilly area of Portland say landslides are nothing new. In 1996, during a particularly wet season, neighbors say that homes started making that eerie "snapping sound," much like the one heard this morning, that signals a pending home slide.

People living here said when they heard the snapping boards and " popping trees" they began evacuating their own homes and gathered together outside. Then they began knocking on neighborhood doors and warning everyone else.

The only people who apparently were not aware of the calamity were those inside the affected homes.

Residents of the affected homes were clearly shaken and did not wish to be immediately interviewed, but did wonder where they're going to stay in the short term.

Power, water, and gas utilities have been shut off in the immediate area. A section of Terwilliger Boulevard from Capitol Highway to Chestnut was also closed as a result of the slide.

City engineers are on the scene, according to Lt. Rich Tyler, who says "the earth is still moving."

The hill continues to slide. Safety lines established by rescue crews have been moved back and are assessing soil stability in the area in order to give residents a timeline to return home.

Tyler says utilities will remain shut off until city engineers determine its safe to turn them back on.

"A large area will remain without power, water and gas," Tyler said.

Once utilities are able to locate and isolate the affected residences they will restore service on a "safe basis."