Landslide could swallow two homes in Stafford County


After the earthquake, hurricane and tropical storm, a landslide opened up in Michele and Dan O’Leary’s backyard in Stafford County in September. (Robin Bennett)

Now she and her husband are praying it doesn’t fall into the giant landslide that opened up in their backyard.

The earth started moving last month, after the earthquake, hurricane and tropical storm battered Virginia. First they saw a crack, just a line running through their and their neighbor’s backyard. The next morning they were really worried: The earth had dropped some three feet overnight, she said.

That day, a county building inspector condemned the two homes.

Their neighbor, Ora Barnes, moved to Northern Virginia to stay with family. The O’Learys are living in an empty house lent to them by another family at their church while they try to determine what caused the problem and if the two houses can be saved. An engineering team has been working, paid for with funds donated by their church and others in the community. Insurance doesn’t cover the damage for either family, a friend, Robin Bennett, said.

It’s the third time there has been a problem on the property there, Bennett said. But this time, the damage is staggering.

And the land keeps sliding. The O’Learys’ decks fell into the giant hole. And with the rain the past couple of days, the earth moved again, O’Leary said.


The hole keeps getting bigger, especially after heavy rains like they had this week. (Robin Bennett)

So the O’Learys go to the house, take photos to document the damage, watch for changes. They pray. They know they could lose everything, any day now.

“We just go because it’s our home,” O’Leary said. “We do miss being there. It’s kind of comforting, if that makes sense, to go and just be there.”

Susan Svrluga is a reporter for the Washington Post, covering higher education for the Grade Point blog.
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