Retaining wall collapse in Gaithersburg forces evacuation of two homes -- Gazette.Net


This story was updated at 12:30 p.m., April 1, 2014.

Two homeowners had to evacuate their homes after a retaining wall just steps from their properties gave way along Quince Orchard Road Sunday.

No one was injured when the retaining wall collapsed about 4:20 p.m., but two homes have been evacuated and the northbound lanes between Hillstone Road and Pawnee Drive were closed. Montgomery County police spokeswoman Cpl. Rebecca Innocenti said Monday the road could be closed for a few days.

The road was still shut down as of Tuesday morning, police spokeswoman Angela Cruz said.

A State Highway Administration surveyor Monday morning was assessing the damage to the wall. Gaithersburg City manager Tony Tomasello said the wall is owned by the Kentlands Community Association and is made of hundreds of concrete blocks, each weighing 200 pounds. Two townhouses at the end of the 100 block of Ridgepoint Place in the Kentlands community have been condemned by the city, according to a notice posted on the homes.

Tomasello said it’s unclear when residents will be able to move back into the homes.

“It’s still early in the process,” Tomasello said Tuesday.

Carmela and Lyndon Thurner, who live at 112 Ridgepoint Place, were forced from their home and are now living in a nearby hotel with their two dogs.

“We haven’t slept in 24 hours,” Carmela Thurner said.

Lyndon Thurner was on the top floor of the three-story townhouse when the wall collapsed. “It was snowing and I heard a loud clap of what I thought was thunder,” he said. “There was no movement, just noise.”

The Thurners said they speculated about the safety of the wall to Gaithersburg officials in 2005, but were told everything was OK.

“We were basically the red-headed stepchildren last time,” Lyndon Thurner said.

Tomasello said a drainage system was added in response to the concern in 2005.

“Engineers monitored the system for a number of years. It had been static for a number of years, so the changes appeared to have been successful,” Tomasello said.

As the owner, the community association is responsible for the retaining wall’s maintenance and repairs, Tomassello said.

“They’ve been working hard with the planning director to effect a resolution,” he said.

Calls to Kentlands representatives were not immediately returned Tuesday.

Carmela Thurner is now calling for the wall to be entirely redone with new, stronger material.

“What needs to be done here is not an overnight deal,” Lyndon Thurner said, estimating it could be two or three months before the wall is fixed and the couple can move back into their home. “I’m sure there are a lot of gears turning and they’re trying to figure out the best approach,” he said.

John Lamir of Lamir Landscaping in Darnestown, who visited the wall Monday morning, said he believed the wall was unstable.

“I have been waiting for it to happen,” he said. He took pictures of the wall, saying it is an example of a poorly constructed retaining wall.

Pete Piringer, public information officer at Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services, said Tuesday the collapse could have been caused by a combination of drainage issues and deterioration of the wall’s material.

While evidence suggests that the ground shifted, Piringer said, “there didn’t appear to be structural damage to the homes.” Utilities to the two homes have been turned off.

The Thurners, who recently renovated their now-condemned home, have lived in the Kentlands community for 22 years and at their current address for the last 14.

“It’s a great community,” Carmela Thurner said. “But we’ve got to work together. This has to be done right away, and we’re hoping that they do the right thing.”

The other home that was condemned was 110 Ridgepoint Place. That homeowner could not be reached for comment.

Staff Writer Tiffany Arnold contributed to this report.