Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bodies Of All Three Victims Found In Wreckage Of Landslide-Engulfed Home In Logan, Utah; Evidence Increasingly Points To A Leaky Canal As The Cause

Note: All posts on the Logan landslide can be viewed HERE, starting with the most recent post.

The worst was feared - and the worst was discovered on July 14th, 2009. The bodies of 43-year-old Jacqueline Leavey and 12-year-old Abbey Alanis were found in the debris from the landslide-engulfed house on 915 Canyon Road in Logan, Utah. About an hour and a half later, the body of 13-year-old Victor Alanis was also found. According to information published in the Deseret News, it appears the bodies may have been found in what was the eastern part of the house, since much of the western portion had already been excavated and searched by hand. KSL news video embedded below:

Video Courtesy of KSL.com

Additional story with video published by KSTU Channel 13.

The new prevailing theory behind the landslide is that a leak in the canal, which may have been combined with natural springs in the immediate area, caused the ground beneath to become so saturated that it abruptly collapsed, triggering the landslide. With no support, the 60-foot section of the canal broke off as well, sending water cascading down into the subdivision. It is now believed that a wall of mud and debris 15 to 25 feet high slammed into the house, although at an angle, knocking the house 20 feet off its foundation. Logan Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Petersen speculated that it had the same force as a 747 crashing into the mountain.

If this is indeed the case, the three victims never had a chance to escape. They were overtaken by events far too quickly.

On Monday July 13th, the director of Logan Public Works told KSL News in this other story that the canal, which is owned by Logan Northern Irrigation Company, was inspected two weeks ago and appeared fine. However, local resident Tyler Pitcher disputes that claim, saying he took pictures showing that the concrete is cracked and that there are huge holes in the canal. "I've walked along there and seen that there are holes along the bottom of the canal. And springs adjacent to our place dried up when the canal broke, so the springs are generated by, perhaps, water seeping through the canal," said Pitcher. [Ed. Note: It is quite possible these deficiencies couldn't be spotted while the canal was full.]

Francis Ashland, a senior geologist from the Utah Geological Survey has been investigating the landslide since Saturday. He also told us it's possible there was some water leaking from the canal making the ground unstable. "It was a sequence landslide event. Photographs of the eyewitnesses suggest that originally there was a landslide in the lower slope, between the house and the canal," said Ashland.

Ashland also says they don't know why that lower landslide may have happened, but there may have been elevated water levels in the area. "If you look at the canal, it's a concrete-lined canal with seams. There are some damage zones along both the east and west of the landslide (in the canal), so it's possible some water was leaking through the lining of the canal either at the seams or through the cracks... . It's possible the canal contributed to the water in the lower bluff," which is where Ashland says the original slide occurred.

Farmers are speaking out against any effort to blame the company which operates the canal. The Farming Community of Cache Valley said people should not be quick to judge the Logan Northern Irrigation Company. At a press conference on Tuesday, geologists said the canal leaking is normal; however, it is not normal to have a canal on such a steep slope. Cache Valley farmers said the Irrigation Company should not be blamed. It is these canals that have provided water to farmers for hundreds of years. The same canals that farmers say are maintained everyday, because if they didn't work properly, the farmers would not get their water.

Of course, it's a matter of what is meant by "blame". If the farmers are suggesting that the canal company shouldn't be witch-hunted and litigated into bankruptcy, I would agree 100 percent. However, it is now abundantly clear that routing a concrete-lined canal through such a steep-sloped vulnerable area IS NOT WORKING; there have been too many breaches. So when the investigation is complete, one of the outcomes must be that the canal company be required to pipe the canal through that vulnerable area to reduce the threat. Repeated rescue and recovery operations will cost more money than the one-time investment to pipe that section of the canal.

Other communities are also looking at their canal maintenance. According to a story in the Ogden Standard-Examiner, Terel Grimley, manager of the Pineview Canal Company, said employees constantly monitor the state of the 75-inch pipeline that runs from Pineview Reservoir to the mouth of Ogden Canyon, as well as the two separate canal systems that the pipeline splits into. One system runs south to Washington Terrace to a point near Ogden Regional Medical Center. The other runs north to Brigham City.

Grimley said employees also take emergency phone calls at all hours from concerned residents who notice anything unusual about the canals. "We have canal riders on shift. They make six to eight runs every day when we have water in." Grimsley also noted that Pineview Canal Company canals largely are piped or lined with cement or membrane liners instead of just dirt, as the Logan canal apparently was.

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