Photo of the area of the landslide and canal breach, from the KSL photo gallery
On Saturday July 11th, 2009, a portion of a hillside in Logan, Utah gave way, breached a canal barrier, and sent tons of water and debris cascading into a neighborhood 150 feet below. As of this post, one home has been destroyed, eight others seriously damaged, and three people are presumed missing. A Google ground view pic of the home before its destruction is available HERE. The purpose of this post is to identify and present the most pertinent information published by various local media sources.
-- Logan Herald-Journal (City: slide not foreseeable)
-- Logan Herald-Journal (Family feared dead in collapsed home)
-- KSL Channel 5
-- Deseret News (Three presumed dead after Logan canal breaks, flooding homes)
-- Deseret News (Residents pour in to help Logan neighbors)
-- Deseret News (Searchers cautious in recovering mudslide victims - newer story)
-- Salt Lake Tribune
-- KTVX Channel 4
-- KUTV Channel 2 (includes video)
The landslide began at 11:30 A.M. on July 11th. Taking the brunt of the landslide was the home at 915 E. Canyon Road, which was destroyed. The force of the slide was so great that it knocked out a 10-inch concrete wall with rebar, as well as knocking the house 20 feet off its foundation before pushing it another six feet in another direction. When the home finally came to rest, most of it was buried, with only the roof showing above ground. Three of the residents of the home declared missing (and now presumed dead) are Jackeline Alanis; her 13-year-old son, Victor Alanis; and 12-year-old daughter, Abbey Alanis. Alanis is from El Salvador and has lived at the home with her children for a month. She shares the house with family members Julio and Rosa Sandoval. He is a truck driver and the couple were on the road in Arizona.
Witnesses observed the three missing persons entering the home shortly before the landslide. It was reported that Alanis then noticed water coming into the home, and called her landlord. The landlord advised her to grab essentials and get out. But five minutes later, the landslide occurred. Thus rescuers believe they are still in the house.
Eight other homes were flooded and 11 additional homes suffered significant yard damage. Up to 50 people have been displaced by the mudslide. A total of 15 homes in the area and 20 people are currently evacuated along Canyon Road from Crockett Road to 970 East. Some of the homes may have to be condemned, which will raise questions about whether they should be allowed to be rebuilt, considering that the area will remain vulnerable. KSL news video embedded below:
Rescue efforts began almost immediately, but were hindered by the fact that the ground was considered so unstable that the use of heavy equipment to dig around the house was precluded. Rescuers began peeling off the wreckage from the top down. After removing the roof, they found that over two-thirds of the house was buried under mud and debris. More than 100 search and rescue personnel, including the Unified Fire Authority's highly experienced Urban Search and Rescue team were involved, but recovery efforts were stopped before midnight due to the ground's instability. As many as 300 other volunteers showed up to clean up mud, rocks, and water that flowed beyond Canyon Road and into homes more that a block away.
Preliminary evidence shows local public officials have exercised some oversight regularly. Colleen Gnehm, water commissioner of the Logan River, said the canal, previously mis-identified as the Logan-Hyde Park Smithfield Canal, but since confirmed by the Salt Lake Tribune to be the Logan Northern Canal (one commenter said that the canal is 120 years old), was inspected two weeks ago since the water level was running higher than normal and there were no problems. Public works director Mark Nielsen said that city workers responded to three complaints of water on Canyon Road during the past weeks and found in each case that the problems were due to water coming from natural springs in the area and not from the canal. In such situations, most springs are tied to privately owned water rights, which means the city is powerless to intervene.
But Jlene Hansen, the neighborhood council chairwoman for Wilson Neighborhood, said the canal system in Logan has been a concern for years. She said canals run underground throughout the city and many homes are built near the waterways. Furthermore, homeowners often are unaware their homes are near a canal. She also questioned whether or not canal companies are vigilant about making sure the canals are safe. The latter statement implies there's a division of responsibility between public officials and the private sector on this issue. Public officials exercise oversight, but rely upon private companies to actively manage the facilities.
And some other local residents indicate there were preliminary indications of a growing problem during the past couple of weeks. April Lescoe said she drives on Canyon Road nearly every day on her way to work, and has seen water on the road every day during the past two weeks. "There were tons of puddles last night [July 10th]. I told my husband to slow down because I was afraid we were going to hydroplane." Another resident David Knavel said, "The road was a sinkhole, a swimming pool last night at 4:00 in the morning, so there was plenty of warning." And, according to Peggy Reese, who's lived in the neighborhood for 25 years, it's the third flood that has occurred there in that time. Most recently in September 2005, a similar flood took place at 975 Canyon Road, but only one home was reported to be seriously damaged.
The LDS Church has permitted the American Red Cross to use their chapel on 600 E. Center St. as an emergency shelter for displaced residents.
This is not the only part of the Wasatch Front experiencing landslide problems. A slow-moving landslide has affected a North Salt Lake neighborhood for 10 years. Heavy rainfall along the Wasatch Front during June, in some places twice to three times the normal amount, excacerbated these situations.
In 1999, exactly 10 years before, a similar flood took place in Riverdale, Utah when the Weber-Davis Canal breached, affecting 78 homes. None were condemned. To minimize the threat of a recurrence, Davis and Weber Counties Canal Co. has spent $30 million over the past 10 years to shore up the canal, pipe it through Riverdale and cover the rest in a culvert.
Solutions: The short term solution is to lower the threshold required to shut down the irrigation canal. The mere appearance of standing water on Canyon Road alone, in the absence of rainfall, should trigger a temporary canal shutdown in the future. Long term solutions may include piping and culverting the canal, or if necessary, buy up the homes on the north side of Canyon Road and place the area off limits to future residential development. The north side of the road has clearly become too vulnerable.