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Falling boulders force residents to evacuate

Rock slide in Vt. felled power lines

MONTPELIER -- A massive rock slide dumped car-sized boulders and several trees across a major downtown road late yesterday afternoon, forcing the evacuation of some 50 residents from an apartment house across the street from the slide.

''There was a loud noise -- I thought it wa a plow coming through -- then a flash of light and then the big stuff started coming down," said Howard Curtis, who lives just north of the slide.

The first slide, roughly at 4:15 p.m., brought down power lines along the street and spread huge stones and several tall trees across the road.

''It was quite a flash of white when those lines came down," Curtis said.

Slides continued for roughly two hours.

The rocks, trees, and dirt fell some 60 feet from cliffs just below the aptly named Cliff Street that climbs high above the city.

They filled the middle of a block of Elm Street, which is part of Vermont Route 12 as it heads north out of Montpelier.

Police and fire officials evacuated some 50 residents of the North Branch Apartments, which sit on Elm Street across from the cliffs. Some of the trees and debris spread right up to the doors of the apartment buildings.

The residents, some of whom are disabled, were taken by buses to the high school where the Red Cross helped to find them places to stay.

Police Chief Douglas Hoyt said that around 7 p.m. the residents had been evacuated safely and there were no injuries.

Stephen Gray, Montpelier's public works director, said the slide probably was caused by the recent swing of temperature and the rains of Sunday night.

''We've had freeze and thaw, and then it probably froze again," he said.

This is the site of a similar slide in 1998. That slide prompted the condemnation of a home below the cliff and closed the section of road for several months while workers removed much of the loose rock.

Gray said he was uncertain how long the section of road -- between School Street and Spring Street -- will be closed and the residents kept from their apartments.

''We won't know until we assess what's up there," he said.

The estimates on the size of the boulders that crashed to the road varied, with Gray guessing some were 15-20 cubic yards.

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