Residents evacuated after fatal rock slide face a tough decision

Posted at 6:14 PM, Dec 14, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-14 23:33:01-05

ROCKVILLE, Utah – Two homes in Rockville remain under a mandatory evacuation order following Thursday’s fatal rock slide, and the residents of those homes have to decide whether they will continue living in such a hazardous area.

Maureen Morris and Jeff Elsey were in their cabin at the base of a cliff in Rockville when a rock slide crushed the structure and killed them both.

Todd Harris is a friend of Elsey’s, and he said he feels some homeowners who live in the area are playing with fire.

"I would say so, you drive by and see these other big rocks; they must have come from somewhere,” he said.

Daniel Pettigrew is one of the evacuated neighbors, and he said rocks have fallen in the area in the past.

"We all talk about it,” he said. “We've heard of people having boulders come through their living room in the middle of the night.  My neighbor to the right, Tamara, had some large boulders hit part of her home a few years ago."

Pettigrew said he is still trying to decide if he wants to move out of the area or not.

"Last night I went back and forth,” he said. “I really want to see any sorts of research on the cliff, any geological studies."

A report issued in 2010 by the Utah Geological Survey indicated the cliff has had seven rock falls in 35 years, and maps show the victims were living in a high hazard zone. Bill Lund is a geologist with the Utah Geological Survey, and he said the danger has been present for some time.

"They've had the hazard here for a long time, but what to do? That's an expensive question no matter how you approach it,” he said.

Lund said possible mitigating efforts like securing boulders or building fences and berms could cost more than the value of the homes they are defending.

The evacuated neighbors have to stay out for about two weeks.