Jerry and Georgie Meinerts' Ford Tempo sits abandoned on a dirt road just below their crumpled house on a hillside near the entrance to Zion National Park.
A 2-foot-wide gap in the earth runs directly beneath the car. Cracks of various widths scar the ground both in front of and behind it. The road resembles a series of stairs going neither up nor down."That's our getaway car, but we didn't get away," said Jerry Meinert, 74, from a Springdale motel room. The Meinerts began moving into the home last Thursday. Some of their belongings are still packed.
An earthquake early Wednesday morning triggered a landslide that crumbled part of the hill above Zion Park Boulevard like a dry piece of cake. Three homes were destroyed, leaving four elderly people homeless. The third house was unoccupied during the temblor. No one was injured.
The Meinerts were trying to flee by car as the foothills slowly detached from the mountain above. Dirt and rocks covered U-9 in one spot, preventing access to the park's south entrance. The entrance remained closed Thursday.
"We encountered cracks that we could not cross. We got out of the car and walked down," Jerry Meinert said. It was pitch dark.
The mile-long hike wasn't easy on the fractured road, especially for 68-year-old Georgie Meinert, who injured her left knee a week ago. Wearing a soft brace that immobilized her leg, Georgie Meinert gingerly picked her way over fissures and crevices.
In some locations, the ground was too steep for her to walk down.
"I just got on my fanny and slid down," she said.
Although all of Springdale was awakened by the 4:26 a.m. temblor, there was little, if any, damage in town. When the Meinerts reached the main street, not a soul was stirring.
"The whole damn town was sound asleep," Georgie Meinert said.
The couple walked to a nearby bed and breakfast inn where friends took them in.
"Gradually the town woke up and realized that a disaster had occurred," Jerry Meinert said.
In Springdale, the damage was confined to the Balanced Rock subdivision. It's called Balanced Rock because of the large rock that appears to teeter on another rock just above the James Roberts home. Although the house, which was unoccupied during the earthquake, looks like a Twinkie that was torn in half to exposed the filling, the rock remains intact.
"(The rock) was making noise when I went past it," said Al Bench, Springdale fire marshal. Bench guided Rudy Lueck, 88, and his wife, Eulah, 80, from the subdivision using a flashlight. The road was more passable at 5 a.m. than it was at 5 p.m. The shaking earth loosened the ground, causing it to slowly slide all day.
"You could literally watch the whole mountain moving. It was intense for hours," Bench said. The hill was crumbling even while Bench was on it making sure the Luecks got down safely.
"The road was opening and the road was moving and I was moving - fast," he said.
The area was recently subdivided, and "For Sale" signs dotted the hillside. Property values literally fell through the floor.
"A lot of dreams went down the hill here," said J.R. Madson, whose daughter owns some of the building lots.
The Meinerts have lost everything for now.
"Our big problem at this point is the road is torn up. It will require extensive repair before we can really go up there and salvage anything," Jerry Meinert said.
That could be days because of the unstable ground.
"We're just waiting for the aftershock. It's going to be awesome," said Washington County sheriff's Sgt. Rymal Hinton. "Another aftershock will just finish this off up here."
A small hill laced with cracks is poised to slide into a condominium building.
Motel managers in Springdale reported numerous cancelations as word of the earthquake spread. Labor Day weekend is traditionally one of the busiest for the town and park.