CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A worst-case scenario became reality Thursday when a large portion of the Yeager Airport hillside — which began experiencing some disturbing slippage over the weekend — collapsed into the valley along Keystone Drive, destroying at least one house, damaging a church, blocking a creek and forcing the evacuation of dozens of residents.
Now officials are scrambling to mitigate damage as they wait on a man-made mountain to finish its bow to gravity.
“It’s a bad situation,” said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper. “This is a very serious event.”
Airport officials initially sounded an alarmWednesday when they evacuated six people from two houses along Keystone Drive as a precaution when a portion of the hillside underneath the main runway’s emergency overrun area slipped about 6 feet over the weekend. Most of the overrun area, known officially as the Engineered Material Arresting System, or EMAS area, was built about eight years ago atop an engineered fill containing about 1.5 million cubic yards of dirt. It was the back portion of that area that began shifting significantly over the weekend.
During an emergency airport board meeting Wednesday, airport officials and representatives from the airport’s consulting firm Triad Engineering said the chance of a landslide was slight, but they couldn’t discount the possibility.
“The likelihood of a catastrophic failure and it being down in those houses or on that church is slight, but if there is a risk, you’re talking about people’s lives and I could never live with myself if we didn’t strongly encourage them (to relocate),” airport executive director Rick Atkinson said at the time.
However, that remote possibility became a stark reality a short time after noon Thursday when about a third of the engineered fill area began collapsing into the valley below…