A phone call from a neighbor at 4 a.m. Monday first alerted John Surdi to the water that moments later would shift his life and the earth all around it.

“He said, ‘John, are you aware that there’s water running down your driveway?'” Surdi, 69, recalled his neighbor telling him. “‘A pipe must have broke. You should check it out.'”

Leaving his wife, Barb, in the upstairs bedroom, Surdi headed outside of their three-level home at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac in the 5000 block of 139th Place Southeast, in Bellevue’s Somerset neighborhood, to find a cascade gushing down his driveway.

The flow appeared to be coming from somewhere on the wooded hillside above, so Surdi said he jumped in his Toyota 4Runner and drove up the hill, trying to find the source. Not long after he spotted it — a broken water main near a school parking lot blowing like a geyser — Surdi’s neighbor called again.

“He goes, ‘John are you OK?’ I said yeah, why? ‘Because your house just fell down the hill.'”

By the time Surdi raced back down the hill, his street had transformed into “a raging river, with mud and debris everywhere,” he said, as a landslide had carried his home, with his wife and dog inside of it, off its foundation.


“So, I just goosed it through what looked like a river bed, and ran up to the house and called out through a big gaping hole in the side of it, yelling: ‘Barb, Barb, where are you?'” Surdi recalled during a phone interview Monday evening. “And her voice came back, ‘I’m upstairs.’ So. I yelled, ‘Just come down the stairs’. And she said, ‘I can’t, there’s no stairway. It’s gone.'”

Moments later, one Bellevue police officer who’d rushed to the scene helped carry Barb Surdi on his back, while another carried the couple’s dog, from the ruins of the partially collapsed house, left listing at a 45 degree angle. In all, about 40 people from 17 nearby homes soon were ordered evacuated and left to take shelter Monday in friends’ or relatives’ homes, or at the South Bellevue Community Center.

In the landslide’s aftermath, the couple’s $2 million-plus home was left teetering, with at least seven other homes in its path or otherwise not accessible because of unsafe street conditions, the city of Bellevue said in a statement Monday afternoon.

“Once the damaged house is stabilized, city engineers will reevaluate the conditions,” the statement said. “Other evacuated families are being notified that they will be able to return home once the road has been sufficiently cleared of debris.”

Bellevue police and fire officials were continuing to survey other homes in the area for damage Monday afternoon, along with a team from the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

While city and state geologists and engineers also assessed the damage Monday, utility crews shut off water and gas service in the area, as authorities also received complaints of minor gas leaks. The odor of natural gas was noticed near the site of the collapse around 8:30 a.m., said Meeghan Black, a spokesperson for the Bellevue Police Department.


“This is pretty devastating,” Black said. “We’re very, very fortunate that no one was injured in this incident.”

It remained unclear Monday afternoon whether the saturated hillside caused the house to shift, or if the slide was caused by the broken water main, Black said.

Dana Felton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle, said the risk of natural landslides caused by rain was relatively low Monday.

“Because we’ve had a few dry days, we’re not in an elevated risk at this point,” he said.

But Surdi said he’s certain that he knows the cause: “Well, the fricking pipe broke,” he said. “It was a gusher. It just took down the whole hill and my house with it.”

An aerial look shows the hillside where a Bellevue home slid off its foundation early Monday. Forest Ridge School’s parking lot is above the home. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

In the face of the devastation, Surdi, who owns and runs a carpet-cleaning business from his home, was even able to crack jokes. In the slide, he lost his home-based business, two work trucks, three collector cars, his wife’s car and his home of about 20 years, where he and Barb raised four children, he said.


“It’s all gone. Everything, just washed down in the mud, completely smooshed,” he said. “Surreal is my word of the day. Just traumatizing, and I keep wanting to wake up from this nightmare and fix it.”

Then he added: “But it’s just money. It’s just things.”

His wife suffered an ankle injury while being catapulted out of bed, Surdi said. But otherwise, the couple is healthy and now staying with a son in Redmond. Dozens of friends and customers have called and texted the family, offering support, even free use of a home, he said.

“It’s insane, the outpouring we’ve gotten.”

The couple likely will stay at the homes of the children while figuring out how to deal with their loss, he said.

“We’re all still breathing,” he said. “So, I can make jokes. That’s how I deal with stress. My wife cries, and I make jokes. But I’m pretty stressed out. I’ll cry later.”