25 January 2010

Ongoing massive retaining wall failure in San Antonio, Texas, USA

Posted by Dave Petley

Updated here

In the United States there is an interesting developing story about a large-scale retaining wall failure that is causing the collapse of a housing estate in San Antonio, Texas. The housing development, called the Rivermist subdivision, is the one shown in the Google Earth image below. It is still under construction. The marker shows the approximate location of the slide, as far as I can tell:

According to the media reports the slide started moving on about Friday is now sliding at about 4 inches (10 cm) per hour. There is a pretty clear video of the slide here (but note that this is definitely not a sinkhole as the report suggests).

The slide is far from trivial. These images, from this site, appear to have been taken a day or so ago:

More recent reports and images suggest that the slide has moved a great deal since these pictures were taken. More than 80 houses have been evacuated.

The area of the failure is, as far as I can tell, shown on this Google Earth image. This is two years old and was taken before the houses in this area were built. I have highlighted a rather peculiar feature that runs across the road on this image:

Interesting! The worst-affected houses in this area already look beyond recovery. I wonder how many more will be affected. Personally, I would not allow people to stand or to wander around anywhere near the toe of that wall, but maybe I am overly-cautious. This is clearly a tragedy for the families involved.

Updated here