A disaster in the Wyoming resort town of Jackson continues to unfold in slow-motion as a landslide splits apart hills. If the landslide does not stop soon, it threatens to swallow up houses and businesses in the area. There has been a disturbance in the ground 40 to 50 feet below the 100-foot hillside. This disturbance has gone on for two weeks, and downward movement of debris from the hilltops has accelerated in recent days.
The downward tumbling of large rocks and dirt has prompted officials to suspend efforts to hold up the slope saying they were unsure what else could be done to prevent further damage. Town spokeswoman Charlotte Reynolds said people in Wyoming have asked how long the event will last, and if she was aware of when the mountain side would come down, questions she does not have the answer to.
Jackson authorities believe there could be various causes for the slide. Warmer weather, a wet winter, and construction in the area could all be factors in the shifting of land in recent months. Experts do not believe the hillside will collapse suddenly. It is more likely that large chunks of earth will come down piece by piece.
The process of this Wyoming town disaster is slow-moving, but the threat is real. Authorities have begun evacuating homes and businesses to avoid serious injuries. Town officials initially noticed notable movement in the hills April 4. Since then, 42 apartment units, homes, and businesses have been evacuated.
The earths shifting has caused the ground beneath a road and a parking lot at the base of the main hill in the town to bulge as much as 10 feet. The groundswell has also pushed the town’s water pump building 15 feet. The ground in the area has moved at the rate of an inch a day. George Machan, a landslide specialist called in for consultation about the issue, has said the rate is expected become faster as time goes on.
Landslides and rock-slides are a common occurrence throughout the Rocky Mountains during the spring. As snow melts and warmer weather unleashes the areas natural geology, rocks and mud begin to shift and move. During the 1900s, a large landslide caused by rains triggered a rock-slide that blocked the flow of a river in a town north of Jackson. Two years later the blockage gave way causing a flood that killed six people. Today, the area in this Wyoming town where the landslide is occurring has been cleared for roads and businesses in which could have weakened the hillside causing this disaster.
Rick Johnson, a town resident, lives near the landslide area. He claimed a retaining wall on his property has shifted for the last few years. Johnson said he didn’t think anything of it thought until damage caused by the shifting ground began to happen elsewhere. Johnson believes the reason for the shifting in the mountain are the natural geologic forces at work, and that these forces were helped along by construction.
By Sarah Wright