Evacuation widens as landslide concerns deepen

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JACKSON – More businesses and nearly 60 residents have been evacuated as new evidence points to “extraordinary threat to life or property” for a landslide that resulted in the evacuation of Walgreens in Jackson Wednesday.

Wednesday, the town of Jackson issued an evacuation advisory at 2:28 p.m. – early notice that an evacuation order could be imminent. At that time, the only business evacuated was Walgreens, which closed to customers, but continued to work to donate its perishables to a local food bank and said it would be out of its building completely by noon Thursday.

Pharmacist Bryan Wessman said he spent Wednesday calling doctors and patients that had prescriptions in to the pharmacy to let them know of the closure that will last a minimum of three days.

“I’m kind of up in the air,” he said. “Technically I’m scheduled to work on Monday but have no idea if we’ll be open at that point.”

Now, the entire “Hillside” business complex has been evacuated as well. The complex includes two restaurants, an orthopedic surgeon’s office, Simply Mac (an Apple computer store), a Verizon store, Rendezvous River Sports and others.

At 7:44 p.m. Wednesday the evacuation order came through the town’s emergency management system. Residents and businesses had to be evacuated by 10 p.m. “due to the instability of the hillside in this area and concern for the safety of residents and their ability to leave the area should events escalate.”

One bystander Wednesday said his son is living in the apartments constructed at the same time as Walgreens. He said entire buildings had shifted Tuesday night by three or four inches and that his son was told he’d be evacuated within 72 hours. The man was angry with town planners who allowed the development, saying it was a “stupid move” motivated by money.

“What do we know, we’re just stupid residents,” he said wryly.

Residents like the man’s son have now been evacuated and were asked to register at a Red Cross trailer in a parking area across the street from Budge Drive to allow for notification once the order is lifted. According to a Teton County Sheriff’s Office release, 48 people registered with the Red Cross checkpoint. The release indicated 12 units – mostly apartments – weren’t able to be notified because they were either vacant or residents weren’t home prior to the evacuation. The Jackson Police Department said residents at three locations chose to stay in their homes despite the evacuation order.

Town officials are saying the movement has been deeper than initially expected. On top of the steep excavated face, a crack near the rim has developed, looking like it may slough tons of earth on the buildings and road below. Police officers Wednesday set up camp on the road, taking down the names of anyone that went up or down Budge Drive.

“Time has been on our side allowing us to focus on pre planning,” Incident Commander Cole Nethercott said in a town of Jackson release. “We’ve taken the first step of notification and evacuation. Safety will remain our number one priority.”

The town continues to work with engineers and geologists to stabilize the slope. Officials warned drivers on Jackson’s busiest road – Broadway – to use caution when traveling in the area of the slide since emergency responders and heavy equipment are working at the scene.

“The town will continue to consider and evaluate mitigation alternatives and methods to provide long-term stabilization of the slope and possible alternative access,” the release stated.

Various business and town officials did not return phone calls prior to press time.

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