After working inside on a rain-soaked Thursday morning, Kevin Kleinops — who operates a motorcycle shop next door to an independent welder in the 3350 block of Redway Drive — decided to step outside and see what his neighbor was doing for lunch.
That’s when it happened.
“I had just come out to the next door bay to see if Travis wanted to get lunch, and boom,” Kleinops told The Redwood Times by phone on Friday. “I heard this sound, and then fifteen seconds later the front of the building blew out.”
What Kleinops experienced was the cliff above their businesses giving way, sending a river of rocks and mud through the structure. As reported by Will Houston in The Times-Standard on Thursday, Feb. 9, a landslide came crashing through the shops around noon. Redway Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brian Anderson was still at the scene around 3 p.m. on Thursday and said that some of the structures are a “total loss.”
“The slide actually pushed one of the buildings five feet off its normal base,” Anderson said.
The same slide caused nearly 2,000 customers in the Garberville and Redway areas to lose power, according to PG&E Corporate Relations spokeswoman Deanna Contreras. PG&E crews arrived at the scene around 3:30 p.m. and were still assessing the damage, so no estimated time of restoration was available by Thursday afternoon. The California Highway Patrol Garberville headquarters also lost power, but CHP Officer Jason Taylor said that backup generators kicked in and no communication systems were lost.
Kleinops’ neighbor, Travis, was inside his welding shop at the time of the slide and sustained minor injuries to his back as he ran to avoid the crumbling building.
“Had he been welding, or had I been working on a bike, we wouldn’t have made it out,” Kleinops said. “We are lucky.”
Humboldt County Sheriff’s office Lt. Ken Swithenbank was on the scene shortly thereafter and confirmed that the building had three rentals inside: a motorcycle shop, a welding shop and a plastics business.
“Due to the nature of the businesses, the Humboldt County hazmat teams were on scene to assess any oil or gas leaking,” Swithenbank said. “The staff there stopped any leaking immediately and the hazmat teams were pleased with their fast response.”
Kleinops explained that his business, on the verge of being independent from the parent company who owns it, is days away from shifting to an employee-owned company.
“We have three staff, we’ve all put our hearts and souls into this company, each of us will be impacted by this,” Kleinops said. “But we have insurance, and no one got hurt, so that’s all that really matters.”
On Saturday, 2nd District Supervisor Estelle Fennell told The Redwood Times by email that, “All three (businesses) are basically damaged beyond repair and the buildings have been red-tagged. I talked with a couple of the affected parties yesterday and they were trying to get as many of their belongings as they could reach safely secured because of the fact that burglars showed up on Thursday night after the slide. It was lucky that there were people were there to stop the theft but I have to say, I was absolutely disgusted to learn that we had such heartless and uncaring criminals among us. How low can you go, taking advantage of hard-working people who had just gone through such a traumatic experience?”
“Our Southern Humboldt community is self reliant, yet in times of need resources are pulled together to help sustain and triumph over adversity,” said Southern Humboldt Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Laura Lasseter. “We are encouraged that during their crisis we have 24 hour law enforcement coverage for our business owners to rely on if necessary. The Chamber is thankful no one was seriously injured in this severe force of nature.”
Kleinops said that both the Humboldt County Sheriff’s office and CHP Garberville planned to “increase patrols” at the site, and that he expects to spend the weekend salvaging what tools they can and hopes to be back in business elsewhere in Redway by Monday.
Swithenbank said that the road in front of the businesses is clear and that county inspectors allowed the home owners above the slide to return to their homes the same night.
“We are continuing on with our efforts to get state and federal emergency funding. Our earlier Emergency Declaration was for the January storms so would not cover recent damage. So we are looking into how we can address that,” Fennell said. “In the meantime, business owners should keep a tally and provide damage assessments to Humboldt County OES as soon as possible in case public assistance is made available by the Federal or State governments.”
The link to the damage report form on the County website under “News”, is: www.humboldtgov.org/FormCenter/Sheriffs-Office-7/Storm-Damage-Report-Jan-2017-88.
“Even though it is for the January storms it shows the kind of info that is needed for claims,” Fennell said.
Fennell added that she wished to express her deepest appreciation to all the emergency responders and roads crews who have been working tirelessly “and with great passion to keep our infrastructure as intact as possible: County Roads personnel, PG&E, Local Firefighters, The Sheriff’s officers, the CHP, and numerous neighbors helping neighbors through this wet Humboldt Winter.”
By Friday, locals announced a request for donations for the business owner, explaining that “John Shwartz’s machine shop on the north end on Redway was completely wrecked by a slide on Feb. 9. The shop has been in the community for 28 years. His insurance won’t pay for landslides and John has lost his business. An account has been set up at the Community Credit Union to help with clean-up and possibly help with rebuilding costs. Acct #18840. John says if anyone wants any free clean fill there is plenty behind the shop. Please call 707-923 7648.”
Will Houston contributed to this story, he can be reached at 707-441-0504.