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updated: 4/12/2014 1:56 PM

Shelter to open for Wyoming slide evacuees

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  • Displaced residents of Budge Drive in Jackson, Wyo. register Thursday with the American Red Cross as geologists study the hillside on East Gros Ventre Butte, where the potential for a landslide called for an evacuation.

      Displaced residents of Budge Drive in Jackson, Wyo. register Thursday with the American Red Cross as geologists study the hillside on East Gros Ventre Butte, where the potential for a landslide called for an evacuation.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

JACKSON, Wyo. -- The Red Cross prepared a shelter Saturday for people evacuated from their homes in the northwest Wyoming resort town of Jackson because of a slow-moving landslide.

About 60 people have been forced from their homes since Wednesday as a precaution and because of damage to the only access road.

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The unstable hillside is about the size of two football fields and is along a main artery outside the historic downtown area. Officials say it continues to shift, making it unsafe for residents of mostly apartments to return home even though the apartments are outside the area where the highest risk of a collapse exits.

"The cracks continue to widen and deepen," Assistant Town Manager Roxanne Robinson said Saturday. "If it keeps sliding every day, other complications could arise."

Residents are allowed escorted access to their homes to check on them and pick up personal belongings, but no one is allowed to stay overnight, Robinson said.

The Red Cross has provided 18 displaced residents with hotel rooms until now. But the continuing uncertainty of when they can return home has led the agency to open a shelter, which will be ready Sunday evening.

No one can say right now when residents might be allowed back home, Robinson said.

Robinson said portable water tanks were being placed on the unstable hill in case a fire breaks out. The shifting hill has broken permanent water lines and the temporary water lines that have been put in place don't provide sufficient pressure for firefighting, she said.

At the foot of the slide zone, two restaurants, a liquor store and a just-built Walgreens remain closed amid a slim but persistent risk the hill could collapse suddenly.

"We have two cats and two dogs, and it's a big disruption," said one evacuee, Heather Gould. "It's hard to plan and to know what we should or shouldn't do."

Officials in Jackson were aware a year ago that the hillside was shifting and had installed equipment to monitor the movement, Robinson said Friday.

The movement increased and broke a water line last week. A crack appeared atop a steep slope overlooking the businesses below and the call to evacuate the 46 homes and apartment units on Budge Drive -- a quiet lane that snakes partway up the foot of East Gros Ventre Butte -- came Wednesday.

On Friday, relatively warm spring weather made it a good day for residents of this fit, outdoorsy ski town to hike up nearby High School Butte on their lunch breaks.

All eyes were on the slowly shifting ground -- and on a weather forecast that called for a slight chance of potentially ground-softening rain or snow over the weekend.

"It may stop and it may escalate," said Jody Burkes as he inspected his home and a neighboring rental property he owns on Budge Drive. "So who knows. If it stops, maybe then they'll redo the road and see what happens. But the utilities? I don't know."

Town officials had installed temporary lines on the surface to keep the neighborhood supplied with water and gas, he said.

Damage was verified at only one home, one vacant for the past year. Inside, wood floors had separated and cabinets were falling off the kitchen walls, town officials said.

The house was directly atop the slide zone.

"There's a crack in the earth that goes right beneath that house, right through the middle of that house," Robinson said.

Below the slide zone, pavement was bulging and buckling in the Walgreens parking lot and in a gutter along Budge Drive. A large crack in a concrete retaining wall was widening.

Still, a geologist put the risk of sudden release at just 5 percent. Some homeowners expressed relief after officials said at a town meeting Thursday that only the home already falling apart was at high risk.

"We feel pretty confident our house will be OK," Gould said.

Her husband, however, had cancelled a birthday ski trip to Alaska to see her, their 2-month-old infant, and their four pets through the ordeal. They were staying at a friend's place.

Paul Barbour, evacuated from his townhome, said he was staying with his girlfriend in Teton Village, about 10 miles north of Jackson.

He wasn't too concerned about how long he might be evacuated.

"It depends on how soon I wear out my welcome at my girlfriend's," he said. "I'm cooking her dinner tonight."

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