Heavy rain causes West Bank mudslide

The incident occurred just below a University hospital near the Mississippi River.

by Marion Renault

Record-breaking rainfall Thursday pushed a large chunk of a West Bank hill into the Mississippi River, temporarily putting the University of Minnesota’s Fairview Medical Center at risk.

No injuries occurred during the incident, but city and hospital officials are still keeping a close watch on the affected area, where weather forecasts show a chance of thunderstorms for the rest of the week.

“We never had any danger for our patients or threats to our patients,” said Carolyn Wilson, chief operating officer of Fairview Health Services, at a press conference Friday afternoon.

Shortly after the cliff’s collapse, questions surfaced regarding nearby buildings’ structural safety, but contracted engineers quickly quelled the concerns and hospital operations resumed by Friday morning.

“They are telling us that all of our facilities are on bedrock and are therefore safe,” Wilson said at the press conference. “We are doing a wider review to be careful and extra cautious.”

University building code official Jim Hilgendorf said examiners found the school buildings flanking either side of the Mississippi River to be safe as well.

At approximately 7:15 p.m. Thursday, the Minneapolis Fire Department responded to a call that a mudslide had possibly trapped people at the intersection of South Fourth Street and West River Parkway, according to a release from the department.

Two vehicles had been driving on the parkway when a swath of hill slid from the river bluff over the road, but the motorists escaped without harm, the release said.

One of the hospital’s administrative buildings evacuated about 20 employees, Wilson said.

Pat Higgins, a building official for the city, said because the nearby buildings are located at the top of the slope and 150 feet from where the mudslide occurred, it was important to address the concerns regarding their structural integrity.

With little precipitation last weekend, officials were able to mitigate the damage done Thursday, Higgins said. And unless severe weather further degrades the hill, he said, the next step is restoring the slope and its vegetation, which was sloughed away during the mudslide.

“Continued rain would have eroded and could have easily caused additional mudslides to take off and continue,” Higgins said. “Once you’ve lost part of [the hill], now you’ve got a sharper slope that is even more susceptible to failure.”

On Saturday, a combination of engineers and hospital and city staff members removed debris from the road and installed a geotextile fabric barrier to protect the area from further erosion, according to a Fairview Health Services press release issued Monday.

Later this week, Fairview and its partners in the city will begin discussing the long-term repair of the hill, but for now they’re simply monitoring the area, said Cindy Fruitrail, senior director of communications for Fairview Health Services.

“Since the initial assessment, we have not surfaced anything else that is causing us great concern,” she said.


Meghan Holden contributed to this report.