1983 Thistle landslide was 100 times larger than North Salt Lake slide

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THISTLE — There are still a handful of houses stuck in water and time in Thistle, though they stopped being homes 31 years ago.

Thistle is now a ghost town.

It was wiped out by a landslide in April 1983.

"There's really nothing there, and I don't think there were that many people living there, maybe 25 houses in there or something like that. They were relocated and told don't come back,” said Kimm Harty, the deputy director of the state of Utah’s Geological Survey.

Heavy rain and a fast-melting snowpack was too much for the mountainside, located near the intersection of Highways 6 and 89 in Utah County.

The mud took out the railroad, spilled onto both highways, and blocked the Spanish Fork River below by creating a 220-foot-high dam.

“It started backing up, creating the big Thistle Lake, and that’s what caused the residents of Thistle to be evacuated,” said Harty.

Thistle has been abandoned ever since.

“They had enough time to get out, that’s the bottom line,” said Harty.

At the time, it was the costliest landslide in United States history.

Damage was estimated at roughly $200 million, and was Utah’s first presidential disaster declaration.

"They had to build a tunnel through the mountain to get the railroad operating again, and the Utah Department of Transportation had to build a highway over the mountain,” said Doug Misner, with the Utah State Historical Society.

Signs of the slide can still be seen on the mountain as you drive by today.

The landslide ultimately reached a width of 1,000 feet and was 200 feet thick. It was roughly a mile long.

“It's still our number one. The landslide in Thistle is probably about a hundred times larger than the one in North Salt Lake,” said Harty.


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