Mudslides Leave Residents On Edge -- Washouts Force Families To Evacuate Hillside Homes

Crews from the Seattle Engineering Department today began surveying Perkins Lane West in Magnolia, where six large mudslides forced the evacuation last night of more than 40 homes.

It was unclear today when - or whether - residents could move back in. Some had been given only minutes last night to voluntarily move out because of the slides.

Earlier yesterday on the woodsy, secluded lane, Keith Martensen spent the first day of 1997 digging ditches in the driving rain to keep the fluid hillside from spilling into a vacationing neighbor's house.

"That's what you do for neighbors," Martensen said as he darted from one trouble spot to the next.

In the aftermath of two snowstorms and heavy rains, Seattle-area residents faced mudslides and sinkholes that damaged houses, washed out roads and sunk the tarmac of a gasoline station.

One of the area's most dramatic scenes was in Shoreline, where a 100-foot-wide section of Northwest 175th Street at Sixth Avenue Northwest plunged into a steep ravine, taking with it a parked car, a utility pole and about 30,000 cubic yards of dirt.

Near Mount Index in Snohomish County, authorities called off a ground search for three missing hikers - leaving little hope they will be found alive - when unstable snow made the hunt too dangerous.

Forecasts for calmer weather and decreasing showers offered relief, but around the state, the damage already done was evident:

-- The three pumps of a Shell gas station at 18503 N.E. Ballinger Way in Lake Forest Park sank six feet when Lyon Creek ate away its tunnel under the station and caused a 40-foot-long sinkhole. Police closed Northeast Ballinger Way to traffic for several blocks north of the station in fear that it might sink, too.

-- A cliff above Interlaken Drive East on North Capitol Hill let loose yesterday, piling onto the roadway and sending tree limbs and a muddy rapids toward homes below. From above, residents could be seen sandbagging their back yards to keep mud and water from reaching their homes.

-- In Delridge and West Seattle, numerous mudslides sent families from their homes and forced road closures. A house that slid off its foundation in the 4000 block of 23rd Avenue Southwest cut a natural-gas line. A slide swept through the Sea Wolff Boat Sales building. At 9:30 p.m., a mudslide threatened a condominium complex on the 2300 block of Fauntleroy Way Southwest.

-- In Snohomish County, four cars of a Seattle-bound Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight train derailed early yesterday near 170th Street Southeast south of Snohomish after the tracks apparently separated in the softened soil.

-- In Lynnwood, some residents of a swamped Meadowdale neighborhood returned to their homes by boat to check the damage. Water along 172nd Street Southwest had backed up when a sewage-pumping station failed.

-- In Ballard, a mudslide on Seaview Avenue Northwest at the Shilshole Bay Marina knocked out power to 2,600 customers for about an hour and covered railroad tracks with dirt and fallen power lines.

-- A 100-foot-wide wall of mud covered all four lanes of Highway 12 into Aberdeen. Officials said it would take days to clear.

-- In Eastern Washington, more than 100 residents of the Yakima County community of Gleed were evacuated when a warehouse collapse blamed on heavy snow produced a potentially dangerous cloud of ammonia. The gas, used in the Price Cold Storage and Packing Co. warehouse, dissipated without causing serious injury.

Showers to taper off

In the Puget Sound area, occasional showers were expected tonight, tapering off tomorrow. Saturday is expected to be mostly cloudy with scattered showers, with partly cloudy conditions Sunday and Monday. For the rest of the month, projections are for precipitation close to normal, according to the National Weather Service.

"We're just going to be back to rainy Seattle weather," meteorologist Sten Tjaden said.

Flood warnings remained in effect for 11 rivers, some of which were receding today.

Minor slides and flooding occurred throughout King County, said Rochelle Ogershok, a county Department of Transportation spokeswoman. About 40 roads were closed because of mud and sinking earth.

No significant flooding was expected from area rivers, said Diane Newman, a spokeswoman for the King County Emergency Operations Center.

The train that derailed in Snohomish County had been detoured from the main route along Puget Sound because of mudslides on the tracks between Edmonds and Everett, said Gus Melonas, a Burlington Northern spokesman.

No injuries were reported in the early morning accident, but area residents were briefly evacuated from their homes because of fears that ethanol would be spilled from one of the overturned container units. None of the liquid spilled.

Melonas said the four double-decker cars that derailed held containers of general merchandise. Two of the cars turned over; two remained upright.

Amtrak trains out of Seattle were canceled today, and routes to Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C., were being handled by bus service, a spokesman said. Ticketholders who still wanted to travel could show up at the King Street Station in Seattle and board a bus at their train's regularly scheduled time.

The only Portland train running is the Pioneer run to Chicago.

At least 12 deaths reported

Weather-related deaths climbed to at least 12 here in Washington. A Redmond man who was killed on Avondale Road Northeast on Tuesday when a tree fell, crushing the roof of his car, was identified by the King County medical examiner as Paul Gibson, 47. His 13-year-old son remained in serious condition today at Harborview Medical Center.

A Seattle couple who planned to hunt ducks on the icy Columbia River also are missing and feared drowned, the Walla Walla County sheriff said.

Tobias Brown, 29, and Cindy Thoreson, 35, left Seattle Dec. 22 for a few days of hunting. Brown's pickup has been found in a parking lot near Wallula Junction in Southeastern Washington, but searchers found no sign of the couple or their 10-foot boat.

The storm that blew in New Year's Eve brought high wind and dumped between 1 and 2 inches of rain on most parts of the Puget Sound region, according to the Weather service. On a normal early winter day, the area could expect just two-tenths of an inch of precipitation.

As of 9:30 p.m. last night, 77,000 customers were without power across Western Washington, according to the state Emergency Management Department. King County has an estimated 11,000 customers without electrical power.

Seattle City Light had restored power to most of its customers yesterday before the Ballard mudslide cut power to 2,600 customers in Ballard. The utility had restored power to all within an hour with one exception - the restroom at Golden Gardens Park.

The latest wind and rain storm, combined with melting snow from last week, continued to loosen steep hillsides and overload storm drains.

Edmonds Police said this morning that the downtown area is drying out after being under several feet of water yesterday.

There is still water over the parking lot at Harbor Square and Harbor Inn, but motorists were able to access the Edmonds-Kingston ferry today. Access to the ferry terminal was restricted yesterday.

Highway 522 was temporarily closed east of Woodinville because of high water on the roadway.

Tension on Perkins Lane

The scene at Perkins Lane West illustrated the tension of dealing with mudslides.

All day yesterday, along the narrow residents and city engineers waited for precarious slopes to collapse - and they did. Muddy streams periodically raced downhill, eating away at the saturated soil, leaving more than one expensive house sitting at the edge of an unstable cliff.

Two slides occurred a few yards from each other about 2 p.m. in the 2500 block of the lane.

Seattle Mayor Norm Rice visited two other precarious areas in the city yesterday, including the winding East Boston Terrace on Capitol Hill, where four homes were evacuated, and the East Boston Street Bridge, which was closed because of fears a hillside would collapse. One home lost its entire front yard, making it impossible to enter the front door.

City engineers installed drainage pipes to divert water streaming down the hillside below the bridge.

Rice also visited two 20-unit apartment buildings atop a rain-soaked cliff on Dexter Avenue North overlooking Lake Union. The buildings were evacuated Tuesday night as a precaution, but most residents returned yesterday after the buildings were declared safe.

A mudslide covered a portion of Lakeview Boulevard East, above Lake Union on Capitol Hill.

A silver lining

But there was also some good news.

Interstate 90 near Snoqualmie Pass reopened to traffic in both directions at about 3:30 p.m. yesterday. The highway had been closed due to heavy snow and snow slides since last Thursday, stranding motorists at motels and truck stops.

Damage totals from the past week's storms are only beginning to trickle in from residents and business owners in the county.

The King County Emergency Operations Center reported $3.6 million in damage to about 150 homes and businesses as of yesterday afternoon, but that was considered a fraction of the final tally because many people affected by the storms had not called the center.

To report losses, call the Citizen and Business Storm Damage hotline at 205-8171 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Information from Associated Press and Seattle Times staff reporters Warren King and Jack Broom is included in this report.

------------------------ Keep these numbers handy ------------------------

Here are phone numbers that travelers and homeowners may find useful over the next few days:

-- To get Puget Sound-area road conditions, including mountain passes (recorded), call (206) 368-4499; free from cellular phones: #800-4499.

-- For a free structural inspection of buildings in unincorporated King County that may have been damaged by heavy snow or flooding, call the county Department of Development and Environmental Services, 296-6630.

-- To report road flooding or other road problems in unincorporated King County, call 296-8100.

-- To report non-road flooding in county areas, call 296-1900.

-- To report damage to your property that may result in lower property taxes, call the King County Assessor's Office: 296-7300. Ask for a "Taxpayer's Claim for Reduction of Assessment on Destroyed Property."

-- To report damage from the winter storms, a hotline - 205-8171 - has been set up by the Emergency Management Division to help King County qualify for federal disaster assistance.

-- To request help with snow removal or drainage within the city of Seattle, call the Engineering Department, 386-1218.