John Surdi was making jokes on Monday.
But that night he couldn’t sleep. He kept hearing the gushing water and debris from the floods in his mind as he replayed the dramatic moments of that day, when he tried to get his wife and dog out of their house. Bellevue as it partially collapsed.
Every time his wife, Barb, started to fall asleep, she woke up with a start, he said on Tuesday, recalling how a landslide had thrown her out of her own bed that morning.
Surdi said a call from a neighbor woke him around 4 a.m. Monday, alerting him to water running down his driveway. Surdi climbed the hill trying to find the spring and could hear a broken water pipe gushing out behind his house. Shortly after, his neighbor called him back – his 20-plus-year-old home had slipped off its foundation, taking his wife and Martin, an 8-month-old golden retriever, with it.
On Tuesday, Bellevue City Manager Brad Miyake declared an investigation to determine the case is ongoing. According to Gregg Schrader, director of Bellevue’s Department of Developmental Services, seven households near the Surdis were unable to return home on Tuesday evening and will not be able to do so until the collapsed house is stabilized or partially demolished.
Surdi said his home insurance company said it was unable to send a geotechnical engineer to the site until the city declared the site safe.
About 40 people and two pets were evacuated without injury from 15 homes, including the Surdis home, on Monday. Nearly half of the residents stayed at the South Bellevue Community Center and the rest stayed with family members, said Bellevue Police Department spokeswoman Meeghan Black.
Two geologists with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources assessed the landslide Monday and submitted their findings to the city, DNR spokesman Joe Smillie said Tuesday. Although geologists determined there was no immediate likelihood that the ground would shift again, they advised further inspection of the site, according to Smillie.
At a press conference Tuesday evening, Bellevue officials said they were unsure whether the landslide caused the main water main to break or whether the broken water main saturated and destabilized the hill, causing the landslide.
Smillie described it as a “chicken or egg” situation. The recent hot and humid weather, he said, does not rule out the possibility that the landslide occurred naturally.
“We see landslides everywhere,” he said.
On Jan. 7, a house in Magnolia slipped off its foundation, which Seattle city officials say appears to be the result of recent heavy rains that saturated the slope the house was sitting on.
But for Surdi, there is no doubt as to why his house was inscribed at a 45 degree angle. The area showed no signs of erosion and even in the heaviest rains only a trickle passed over the driveway, he said. Before his house slipped, he saw nearly 2 inches of water over his driveway and his car was hydroplaned.
Surdi takes everything step by step. His bank gave him access to his accounts, even without his credit cards. Costco loaned him a hearing aid. He is currently staying with his son, sleeping on a double mattress on the floor with his wife and their dog.
While Surdi couldn’t find the source of the water on Monday, he heard it while standing in the parking lot of Forest Ridge School, which is behind his house. He wonders why the town wasn’t alerted to the burst pipe and why someone didn’t shut off the water sooner.
While the city has ways to monitor pipe pressure, it relies on reports from crews and residents to identify leaks, said Linda DeBoldt, the city’s assistant director for utility engineering during the Tuesday’s briefing.
DeBoldt also said the pipes are regularly inspected and evaluated for replacement, but she could not say what date this water main was inspected. She said the asbestos concrete pipe, which runs directly behind Surdi’s house, burst between 3 and 4 a.m. It is still unclear how much water leaked during this time.
The pipe was installed in the 1960s, according to city records. The pipes are built to last 100 to 125 years, DeBoldt said.
The number of friends who reached out was overwhelming, Surdi said. A GoFundMe for the family raised nearly $85,000 from more than 700 donors. An international student whom Surdis hosted donated $2,008 – a reference to the “best year of his life,” Surdi said in awe on Tuesday.
Surdi said he hadn’t thought about what to do with the fundraising money. The only thing he knows is that he will get a truck and continue working in his home-based carpet cleaning business.
The Surdis are long-time residents of the Somerset neighborhood of Bellevue. The house, modified to be wheelchair accessible for her eldest son, hosted more than 20 Japanese students and was a gathering place for her four children and their friends.
When they were younger, a trampoline and a pool table kept them at home. As they got older and moved into their own homes in the Puget Sound area, the house was the location for holiday dinners every Thanksgiving and Christmas, until the pandemic put an end to it, he said. -he declares.