Soggy hillsides falling prey to drenching springtime rains

EVERETT, Wash. -- Soggy hillsides are falling prey to the seemingly never-ending cycle of downpours hitting Puget Sound this week.

Since Sunday, landslides have targeted a home, covered a south Seattle street with debris and knocked a train off its tracks.

One slide blocked a section of Rainier Avenue South.

"I live right across the street from it, so it's definitely big news," said Chelsea Stephens. "I'm waiting to see if I'll be evacuated. I don't think so."

An evaluator with the city decided not to evacuate anyone for now. This landslide is on private property so for now crews are not working on the slope. But neighbors there say they have reason to worry.

"It actually happened a few weeks ago, not to this extent," Stephens said.

Crews hope to reopen Rainier Avenue later Monday afternoon and will install jersey barriers to keep any further debris away from traffic.

The recent rain is wreaking havoc in all corners of the Puget Sound region. A woman in Olalla called 911 Monday morning after a hillside cut loose and barreled towards her home. Luckily it was spared any damage but power to the whole neighborhood was cutoff.

Near Everett, commuter train service is still canceled after a second mudslide Monday fell on the same spot where a Sunday mudslide literally knocked an Amtrak train right off the tracks. The wall of mud, rocks, and trees slammed into the dining car, but none of the 97 passengers on board were hurt.

That was just a half-mile from December's massive mudslide that toppled seven cars of a freight train -- all contributing to a brutal winter and early spring for commuter train service between Seattle and Everett.

Officials say slide closures have forced Sound Transit to cancel 200 trips, an unprecedented number that's putting at risk a commuter service that's in high demand.

"We grew last year every month in double digit numbers save for the month impacted by mudslides," said Sound Transit spokesperson Kimberly Reason.

Sound Transit leases the tracks from Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad. The railroad calls the shots on safety.

"A lot of people say 'Why do you shut these passenger ops down for 48 hours?' " said Gus Melonas with BNSF. "We're not gonna put the public in harm's way."

Sound Transit doesn't blame BNSF, it mostly blames the terrain.

"You've got miles of precipitous coastline high cliffs on one side and Puget Sound on the other," Reason said.

Some relief is on the way, though as BNSF just received $16 million from the federal government for projects over the coming months to reduce the number of mudslides.

"We're looking at drainage systems, catchment walls," Melonas said. "We're looking at actually removing debris before it comes down on us."

Those projects will focus on six trouble spots between Everett and just south of Mukilteo, where the railroad says 95 percent of this year's slides have occurred.