(Adds details on acceleration, no critical alerts, home access)
By Laura Zuckerman
April 18 A slow-moving landslide threatening the
affluent Wyoming community of Jackson is picking up speed, with
safety concerns prompting authorities to halt efforts to
stabilize the area, city officials said on Friday.
"The acceleration in the slide has been doubling since
approximately April 1st, with significant movement in the last
24 hours," the town said on its website. But officials were not
issuing any warnings or critical alerts, it added.
The landslide has displaced residents of several homes and
two apartment buildings near the base of the East Gros Ventre
Butte, which geologists said was slumping at a rate that this
week increased to a foot (30 cm) a day from four inches (10 cm).
"The fractured mass wants to slide down and gravity is
pulling it down," said Peter Ward, a retired geologic hazards
expert with the U.S. Geological Survey.
"How it's going to fall apart nobody knows, but it's going
to come apart," Ward said at a town meeting.
Evacuations from residences and several businesses below the
crumbling hillside may continue for weeks as Jackson crews and
utility companies work to prevent ruptures to gas and power
lines and a city water main.
Water supply was halved pending repairs set for Tuesday,
when water would be shut off to several Jackson residences and
businesses until the repairs were completed, authorities said.
Dozens of people who wanted to return home on Saturday to
retrieve possessions were allowed to do so with escorts, Jackson
officials said in a statement. Homeowners will also be allowed
access to their homes on Sunday, officials said.
Some residents in the evacuation advisory area near the
slide who chose to remain were advised that they entered the
area at their own risk, the officials added.
An effort this week to buttress the base of the butte was
halted on Thursday as rocks and gravel rained down, Jackson
Police Lieutenant Cole Nethercott said.
"Right now, it's a life safety issue," he said.
The slide, about a mile (1.6 km) from downtown Jackson, has
cracked retaining walls, opened fissures in roads and bulged
pavement, Ward said.
A retaining wall behind a Walgreens pharmacy had been
breached with gravel and rocks tumbling into its parking lot,
pictures on Jackson's official website showed.
Officials plan a Town Hall news conference on Saturday
While landslides are common in the towering Teton Range near
Jackson, best known as an international ski destination and for
homes owned by celebrities such as actress Sandra Bullock and
former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, they are rare in
developed areas, Ward said.
Possible factors in the slide may be historic excavation of
rocks and gravel at the toe of the butte, a major water leak in
2011, land development, recent rains and snow melt, he added.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by
Barbara Goldberg, Mohammad Zargham and Clarence Fernandez)