The new year got off to a stormy start on Whidbey Island.
Relentless rains have battered hillsides on the South End, causing a landslide in one case and fallen trees in many others.
Fire district officials, however, said the events of the past week are nothing out of the ordinary for this time of year.
Clinton resident Eugene Elfrank has had two landslides occur near his home during the last two weeks because of rain saturating the bluff uphill of where he lives.
South Whidbey Fire/EMS responded to the first slide, which happened Dec. 21. Since then, another one occurred Jan. 4.
Deputy Chief Wendy Moffat said the Dec. 21 slide, near Hastings Road, was about three feet high and 50 feet wide. A culvert pipe came down with the slide.
Elfrank said the second slide added about eight or nine feet to the debris piled up already and happened while he was standing outside his home.
He compared the sound of the landslide to a freight train.
“It was so loud and I just thought it would cause a chain reaction and take the entire bluff down, like dominoes,” he said.
So far, Elfrank’s saving grace has been the 10-foot tall concrete wall behind his home. The previous owner of the home, knowing that the area was prone to landslides, had it built.
During the nearly six years Elfrank has owned the Hastings Road residence, he recalled there being four other slides in addition to the two that just happened recently.
The slide on Monday caused some flooding in his neighbor’s crawlspace, but his home avoided being mired — for the time being.
“If my wall holds, I’ll be excited,” Elfrank said. “If my wall doesn’t hold, I’ll have to go elsewhere.”
Moffat said the cliff near the scene of the slides is about 100 feet. The combination of heavy rains and the island’s soft soils led to both slides.
“That hillside specifically is notorious for the sand sloughing off,” Moffat said.
Her fellow Deputy Chief Terry Ney agreed that landslides are “a fact of life” on Whidbey. Some have been going on for years.
“We have houses that are built on geographically unsound areas,” he explained.
And landslides aren’t the only issue.
Since Jan. 1, the fire department has had 17 calls relating to flooding, downed trees and power lines.
Fire crews responded Monday to a tree that had fallen into a power pole near Double Bluff, which blocked access to the park for a few hours while PSE, Puget Sound Energy, addressed the issue.
Moffat warned people to stay away from downed power lines.
“A lot of people just drive over them or walk right next to them,” she said.
“You don’t know if it’s energized or not. Call PSE.”