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Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014

Displaced family builds faith as work on landslide area set for October

By Morgan Jacobsen, Deseret News

Published: Thu, Sept. 4 9:39 p.m. MDT

 Elena Utrilla walks past her home in North Salt Lake on Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014. The Utrillas' home was destroyed in a landslide that occurred on Aug. 5, 2014.

Elena Utrilla walks past her home in North Salt Lake on Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014. The Utrillas' home was destroyed in a landslide that occurred on Aug. 5, 2014.

(Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

NORTH SALT LAKE — City officials announced Thursday that remediation work is expected to begin on the North Salt Lake landslide by Oct. 15 and will start at the top of the scarp where investigators believe lies the greatest risk.

Construction at the top of the scarp is expected to be largely complete by the end of the year, and work on the rest of the slide will continue through the winter, though funding for the project has not yet been identified, according to Mayor Len Arave.

Before a construction plan is developed, geotechnicians plan to do additional drilling at the site to better measure ever-changing groundwater levels on and around the slide and how they would impact remediation.

The landslide hit Aug. 5, sending tons of rock and dirt sliding into a home on Parkway Drive, damaging a pool and tennis club, and forcing 27 residents from their homes. The slide crushed the home of the Utrilla family, permanently displacing them. All but one other family have now returned to their homes but the neighborhood residents remain uneasy about the possibility of additional slides.

Several residents at a community meeting Thursday requested that data collected be shared publicly as it becomes available in the hope that it will clarify what the broad impacts of the slide could be, such as a change in the way groundwater flows through the neighborhood.

"We have concerns about what's going on under Parkway Drive — what the water movement is, what might happen to us in three years if our foundation starts cracking," said Steve Peterson, who lives across the street from the slide. "This could take a long time to determine the impacts."

Residents also called for more open communication between city officials and community members.

"I would like to feel that the city isn't treating me already as a potential litigate," resident Ty Weston said. "I think sometimes when we hear the verbiage from the city, it almost feels to me that the city's already treating me as if I have sued the city or done something against them. ... I want the city to be my representative, my ally in resolving this."

Sharing information

Kearn River Gas Transmission Company is continuing to monitor two gas pipelines that run through the area of the slide, which supply 90 percent of the natural gas for Las Vegas, and 30 percent of the gas for Southern California, Arave said. The utility company has hired it's own geotechnical firm to study the slide, as have the city and Eaglepointe Development.

Each firm will share the information they gather to ensure accuracy and a broad perspective on which to base remediation plans, the mayor said.

Arave said the city plans to address several concerns raised in a petition from residents of Eaglepointe, including determining what events and contributing factors led to the slide, as well as necessary adjustments to city ordinances, policies and procedures.

"We have to take it one step at a time," he said.

The cause of the slide remains unknown, but it appears that heavy precipitation contributed to the slide's accelerated movement, according to Tim Thompson, a senior geologist with GeoStrata, a firm hired by the city to monitor the slide.

"Nobody anticipated an inch of rain in a half an hour," Thompson said. "That was an awful lot of rain. The rain lubricates the sheer plane to make it weaker, it adds weight to the slide to make it heavier, it does all the things you don't want to see happen."

Utrilla home

What's left of the Utrilla's home at the base of the slide is expected to be removed starting Wednesday.

As the effort to fund the construction of a new home for the family continues, Elena Utrilla reflects on portions of her life she says prepared her for the difficult days and weeks after her home was destroyed.

Utrilla says financial hardship and painful health conditions while living in Peru caused her to turn to her faith in God as a source of strength. Prayer and scripture study are a part of every day, she said.

Utrilla remembers the morning last month when her family fled from their home in panic as a moment of divine providence.

"We had angels all around us that day," she said in spanish.

The family felt emotionally devastated watching their home collapse, but in its wake emerged a support network extending beyond next door, Utrilla said.

"When we thought we'd lost everything and when the love of the community emerged, I felt that I'd lost a house, but I'd gained a great family," she said. "The mountain destroyed my house, but it didn't destroy me."

Utrilla and her family continue living in housing provided by Eaglepointe Development while construction plans on their new home move forward. By Thursday, $338,220 in cash, goods and services had been donated toward the project.

While seeing her old home in pieces no longer brings feelings of distress and grief, Utrilla says she prays for the continued safety of other residents and that the slide presents no further threat to the community.

"We had the faith to move the mountain, now we just need the faith that it will stay where it is."

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com, Twitter: MorganEJacobsen

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1. Say No to BO
Mapleton, UT,
Sept. 5, 2014

I suppose a Peruvian earthquake would prepare you for such a tragedy.

2. LivinLarge
Bountiful, UT,
Sept. 5, 2014

I am impressed with the character of the executives at SKY. Scott Kjar seems deeply committed to help and I can vouch for him and his integrity.

3. WilbertCane29
Indianna, PA,
Sept. 5, 2014

I found this to be really interesting. Are there any more sources on this? I would like to know more about this.