North Salt Lake residents 'coping' with loss and fear after landslide

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 6 2014 1:15 p.m. MDT

People stand near the top of a landslide that destroyed a home near 739 Parkway Drive in North Salt Lake, Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014.

Michelle Tessier, Deseret News

NORTH SALT LAKE — Early Tuesday morning, David Utrilla's father woke up to a sound that confirmed the fears of the family and the community.

When he looked out a back window, he saw the hill behind his North Salt Lake home moving toward them. He woke the rest of his family, and they all moved out into the street in their pajamas.

Utrilla, who lives in another community, recounted Wednesday what his parents and siblings witnessed:

"Literally, when they ran out of the house, a couple of (my) brothers were moving the cars out of the garage, the whole house basically collapsed behind them," Utrilla said. "It was just a miracle, really, that they came out alive. Because if my father (hadn't woken) up, we'd be having a different type of catastrophe where lives were compromised. So in a way, we feel blessed that their lives were safe."

Utrilla's account was one of the first public responses from the family whose home was destroyed in the landslide. One day after the incident, city officials and community members gathered Wednesday afternoon to discuss the city's tentative plan in moving forward.

Geotechnical engineers with Sky Properties, the site's developer, are waiting for the area to remain dry for 48 hours before beginning studies to model the soil's stability and water content. Once studies are complete, construction plans will be made to excavate the area and lessen the slope of the hill, according to city manager Barry Edwards.

"We're hopeful that within three weeks, we should have construction equipment out there starting to do the remediation," Edwards said. "It's going to take some time once the construction begins. I think we're all aware that the construction season is far spent, and we don't have a lot of time left. So if they don't jump in and get it done, the city will step in and get it done."

Until the ground dries out and stabilizes, officials will refrain from altering the demolished home. When it is deemed safe to do so, the home will be removed in such a way that the some of the Utrilla family's possessions still inside can be collected, according to North Salt Lake Police Chief Craig Black.

Tuesday, the city issued a mitigation plan for the area affected by the slide. The plan states the city will wait for "no movement for several days, no rain for several days" before action on the slide is considered. Material at the bottom of the slope will not be removed, and no heavy equipment is being allowed on the top of the hill.

Although no movement was detected at the site Tuesday night or Wednesday, nearby residents remained skeptical of the neighborhood's safety.

Ty Weston hasn't been back in his home since he and his family left Tuesday morning, even though evacuations were lifted that evening. Weston said he was waiting to see what Wednesday's meeting would bring before considering whether to go back.

"Frankly, I wasn't very impressed," he said. "I felt that what we heard was the developer, who has at least partial responsibility, is the one's they're relying on to tell us what's going on. Not very confidence-inspiring."

Other residents shared Weston's concerns.

"It's completely unpredictable," said Steve Peterson, who lives across the street from the Utrilla's home. "We obviously feel a lot of discomfort. … There's no way we could feel comfortable, but we live here, and it's complicated to just get up and walk away."

Some officials say it's not a matter of if the soil moves again, but when.

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