By Laura L. Myers
SEATTLE (Reuters) - A 1,000-foot landslide that tore off a chunk of a subdivision on Washington state's Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, has now destroyed at least two homes and left several others in imminent danger, a county commissioner said on Thursday.
The landslide first hit the Ledgewood Beach community about 50 miles north of Seattle at 4:15 a.m. local time on Wednesday.
Authorities rescued 12 residents from nearly 20 homes in the area that were cut off when a road was damaged by the landslide, which also knocked one house more than 100 feet from its foundation and severed electricity to many others.
"For sure, two houses are gone," Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said on Thursday. "We had an uneventful night, but the slide is still extremely active."
Five homes remain in danger and roughly 35 others remain under an evacuation order or cut off from the rest of Whidbey Island, Johnson said, adding the damage was still being assessed.
Geologists were evaluating the disaster area and it could be days before officials determine if it is safe for residents to return home, said Jessica Payne, a spokeswoman for Washington state Department of Natural Resources.
The homes in the Ledgewood Beach area are a mix of year-round and vacation properties that sit high on a bluff overlooking the waters of the Puget Sound.
Community officials met on Thursday to work out the value of property damages and assess risks, Price Johnson said.
Some residents in less affected areas were allowed to return and retrieve possessions late on Wednesday and on Thursday morning.
Parts of Whidbey Island's coastline were left unstable by movements of the Vashon Glacier that formed it more than 12,000 years ago, according to an Island County historical website.
The slide on Wednesday "is the largest that I'm aware of," Price Johnson said.
"I thought it was an earthquake when I first heard it," local resident Delia Curt told KING 5 news.
A home in the Ledgewood area was destroyed by a previous slide during winter storms in late 1996 and early 1997, Payne said.
"This area was actually mapped by DNR geologists in 2005 as a deep-seated landslide area that was historically active," Payne said.
Washington state homeowners can purchase a landslide insurance policy for homes at about $1,000 or more for a home valued at $300,000, said Karl Newman, president of the 11-member Northwest Insurance Council, based in Seattle.
"We encourage anyone above or below a steep slope to purchase it," Newman said.
(Writing by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Andrew Hay)