Residents of Springdale, Washington County, were praying Friday morning that no rain would fall from the overcast sky - in fact, hoping no rain will fall for several weeks - following Wednesday's earthquake.
A huge, unstable hillside slipped during the quake, destroying the three luxury homes of Spring-dale's Balanced Rock subdivision. Without much prompting, it could move again.The landslide is about two-thirds of a mile long and a fifth of a mile wide, with its easternmost edge reaching U-9, the entrance road to Zion National Park.
Springdale held an emergency town meeting Thursday night to discuss the situation.
"We were told by a geologist at our meeting last night that if it rains - because there's clay underneath - that that hill would just start sliding again," Paul Millett, Springdale's city manager, said Friday.
"The hillside is to the edge of the road and covering part of the highway," he said. "The geologist said in a worst-case scenario, it could move right down to the river. If it rains, it's possible. Or if we had an aftershock, a tremor."
The condominiums, restaurants and motel have been evacuated. People continue to live in a couple of the residences," he said., "but they're on the alert as well."
Meanwhile, local contractors used a Caterpillar tractor to cut a four-wheel-drive road to two of the homes destroyed in the quake, and the town has organized teams of volunteers to help pack belongings onto trucks and move them out. A road was to be cleared to the third wrecked house soon.
The houses' walls are ruptured and the roofs caved in. They could collapse, particularly if a strong aftershock hits or the hillside lurches again.
The trucks are directed by volunteers using radios, who could warn quickly of any movement. If the slide starts to shift, the orders are for everyone to immediately jump in the trucks and leave.
Zion is back to normal, with the reopening of the entrance road Thursday afternoon.
If the quake had happened during the busy daylight hours, when thousands of people drive into the park on this south entrance road, deaths might have occurred. Some of the rocks that crashed down "were as big as washing machines, and there could have been severe damage," said Denny Davies, the public information officer at Zion.
However, for the most part, within the park "we're frankly surprised there wasn't a great deal more rockfall than there was," he said.
More rocks are bound to come down, and fissures that are visible in the soil will cause movement.