Reduced to Rubble: Terwilliger Landslide

Thursday, October 09, 2008

In our neighborhood, a tragedy occurred this week--a landslide--that affected a few families, one of which we know personally.

These are the houses that were at the base of the landslide. The one on the right was forced off its foundation when the house 300 feet above it came crashing down at 5:30AM, barely allowing enough time for its owner to escape with her life. The house on the left is owned by our friends, who grabbed their son and ran before the house slid down 300 feet and hit their house. The people on the right had owned and lived in this brown house for twenty years. And at 5:30am in the morning, they found themselves in their pajamas and homeless.

And here is the house that broke away from the hill, sliding down into a pile of rubble. The owner, Kathei Hendrickson, barely escaped in time.

I often comfort myself during this economical crisis in our country by telling myself that no matter what--no matter what!--it's only material possessions and money, but when a tragedy like this happens where everything you own is reduced to rubble, I can't imagine what that must feel like.

Your car is parked in your garage, letters are tucked away in desk drawers, your computer has e-mail queued up that you've been meaning to get back to, there are a stack of bills you must remember to write checks for and mail by tomorrow, trophies from highschool basketball championships, framed diplomas, chicken breast in the refrigerator for an Asian chicken salad you plan to make tonight, photo albums that have been kept safely in your family for generations, antiques and furnishings that you spent a lifetime collecting, a backyard garden full of plants lovingly selected and often tended to on sunny afternoons, the patio where you sat and drank your wine as you watched the sun go down in the west hills--all in rubble, nearly everything irrecoverable.

A whole life's worth of possessions, some replaceable, some that can never be, lost to a landslide, and only ever accessible again through your memories of them.

I can't imagine how horrific and terrifying it must have been to be Kathei Hendrickson. Was she still in bed when she first heard the house creak and groan in agony as its foundation and the soil beneath began to give way? Had she only just poured her morning cup of coffee, thinking about work and what she needed to get accomplished that day?

Her neighbor's house still stands, but the slope is still sliding. Their front yard is still falling, bit by bit. In fact, just yesterday, most of that front lawn was still there. These old Portland homes, built in the early part of the twentieth century, have stood through WWII, Vietnam, the construction of I-5, and the Columbus Day Storm. These houses have seen many families inhabit their walls, and many happy memories have been made in their rooms.

Part of a backyard getaway, with a backyard stove, now a mess and now barely identifiable.

Looking from her streetside beds, Kathei Hendrickson's driveway is now thirty feet below where it once was.

When she first tried to escape from her house, her door had already jammed as her house had already started to collapse. She finally opened it as her house fell over on its backside. She crawled out and was standing on top of what was once the front side of her house and a neighbor got a ladder. She grabbed the rung sobbing in fear and devastation as her house slid down the hill beneath her.

The media have already done a good job at covering this story, but it's never the same as seeing it yourself. Juniper and I walked up the hill in the rain and took these pictures. On the way back to my car, I was thinking about the economy and the "what ifs" about our future. I like to think that if we lost everything, we'd find comfort and joy in still having each other, but I don't know. I draw a lot of comfort and security from my things around here, from my garden, and the memories we've already made in this house of ours. I think a part of me would die if this had been my house, if all I had were the clothes on my back, if I'd lost everything tangible I'd ever cherished. But then again, what are material belongings without the people that once touched them? What are the walls of a house without the people that make memories inside them? They're just walls. And in the end, Kathei Hendrickson has her life, and a chance at rebuilding what once was.
Inspectors follow up on Portland West Hills landslide


Claudia said...

It's hard to imagine that you are my daughter!!! You are sooooo very discriptive about what happened in the West Hills.....I think you were FAR better at covering it then the media did. You might think about going into journalisum when the kids get into school ~~ or out of the house.
You very much impress me as to how you can discribe how people feel/or would feel if it had happened to them. Yes, of course everyone has a different flavor of memories but much like you submitted!
Very, very nice Honey!! You did not get that from me -- but then I think it is just your personality! and learning about life I guess.

sam paul said...

Excellent pictures, hope your neighbors made it out safely.

Anonymous said...

The sad irony to this is that your page has a Google ad for Farmers Home Insurance, which is the same insurance the homeowner had, and it refuses pay any claims on this lost home.

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