CHEYENNE, Wyo. – A slow-motion landslide in Wyoming was tearing one home apart inch by inch and keeping about 60 evacuees from knowing when, or even if, they might be able to move back into theirs.
At the foot of the slide zone, two restaurants, a liquor store and a just-built Walgreens remained closed Friday amid a slim but persistent risk the hill could collapse suddenly.
"We have two cats and two dogs, and it's a big disruption," said one evacuee, Heather Gould. "It's hard to plan and to know what we should or shouldn't do."
Officials in Jackson were aware a year ago that the hillside was shifting and had installed equipment to monitor the movement, Assistant Town Manager Roxanne Robinson said Friday.
"We acknowledged the hillside had some sloughing up. But there wasn't anything drastic until this past Friday," she said.
The movement increased and broke a water line last week. A crack appeared atop a steep slope overlooking the businesses below and the call to evacuate the 46 homes and apartment units on Budge Drive — a quiet lane that snakes partway up the foot of East Gros Ventre Butte — came Wednesday.
On Friday, relatively warm spring weather made it a good day for residents of this fit, outdoorsy ski town to hike up nearby High School Butte on their lunch breaks.
Evacuees, however, were told to expect to remain out of their homes at least through the weekend. Police were escorting people back temporarily to retrieve belongings but not allowing them to stay overnight.
All eyes were on the slowly shifting ground — and on a weather forecast that called for a slight chance of potentially ground-softening rain or snow over the weekend.
"It may stop and it may escalate," said Jody Burkes as he inspected his home and a neighboring rental property he owns on Budge Drive. "So who knows. If it stops, maybe then they'll redo the road and see what happens. But the utilities? I don't know."
Town officials had installed temporary lines on the surface to keep the neighborhood supplied with water and gas, he said.
Damage was verified at only one home, one vacant for the past year. Inside, wood floors had separated and cabinets were falling off the kitchen walls, town officials said.
The house was directly atop the slide zone.
"There's a crack in the earth that goes right beneath that house, right through the middle of that house," Robinson said.
Below the slide zone, pavement was bulging and buckling in the Walgreens parking lot and in a gutter along Budge Drive. A large crack in a concrete retaining wall was widening.
Still, a geologist put the risk of sudden release at just 5 percent. Some homeowners expressed relief after officials said at a town meeting Thursday that only the home already falling apart was at high risk.
"We feel pretty confident our house will be OK," Gould said.
Her husband, however, had cancelled a birthday ski trip to Alaska to see her, their 2-month-old infant, and their four pets through the ordeal. They were staying at a friend's place.
Paul Barbour, evacuated from his townhome, said he was staying with his girlfriend in Teton Village, about 10 miles north of Jackson.
He wasn't too concerned about how long he might be evacuated.
"It depends on how soon I wear out my welcome at my girlfriend's," he said. "I'm cooking her dinner tonight."