As Cracks Widen In Washington State, Government Prepares For A Landslide Dozens of people have agreed to move temporarily to hotels in case a landslide destroys their homes.

As Cracks Widen In Washington State, Government Prepares For A Landslide

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

There is a potentially massive landslide that's looming over one of the main interstates in Washington state. The Northwest News Network's Anna King reports from a place called Rattlesnake Ridge.

ANNA KING: Nearly 70 people live on this sliver of land in central Washington state. Mobile homes are wedged in a depression below the ridge, flanked by Interstate 82.

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KING: I trail two firefighters who go door to door, trying to get the residents here to leave. Farmworker Janeth Solorio says it's difficult.

JANETH SOLORIO: We have to move, and we don't have enough money.

KING: There's an offer of five paid weeks for a hotel. Most have taken it, but they keep returning to the precarious spot for belongings and to tend to animals. At the base of the ridge is a quarry for material to make asphalt. Many people wonder if removing part of the ridge destabilized it. Geologists hired by Anderson Quarry say the slide will be slow-moving and that it isn't likely to reach the Yakima River or the interstate. They say it will slide in a different direction - toward the quarry. But an independent geologist disagrees. Right now, he wouldn't drive that section of interstate.

BRUCE BJORNSTAD: I think I would find an alternate route.

KING: That's Bruce Bjornstad. He has studied landslides in the area for years, including decades with the federal government. He says the cracks showing now, moving more than a foot every week, are likely just the beginning.

BJORNSTAD: There's evidence elsewhere in the area that suggests that there have been other landslides on other ridges that have released, apparently, very quickly.

KING: Bjornstad and some other geologists say it could come down in a similar way. But so far, Washington State Department of Natural Resources says it has looked at its own data and the quarries, and that the interstate and the river are not likely threatened. Washington Governor Jay Inslee told the press Sunday that at this point, the state's job is to monitor risk.

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JAY INSLEE: This is 4 million cubic yards of material that is moving. And there is no force that we have on Earth that's - that can totally control this.

KING: Federal river managers are scrambling to figure out how to mitigate flooding if 4 million cubic yards dam up the Yakima River. They met over the weekend with the state, tribes and counties to plan for the worst. Anderson Quarry has suspended operations for now. The money to move people nearby to hotels came from the quarry's parent company. For NPR News, I'm Anna King outside of Union Gap, Wash.

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