A man who escaped from the damaged home was evacuated by rescuers in an all-terrain vehicle, Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue Chief Ed Hartin said.
Many of the homes near the water are summer cabins or weekend getaways and were unoccupied. Some are larger, upscale properties and others are more modest dwellings.
Eleven people from 16 homes along Driftwood Wavy, a road close to the water, were evacuated by boat because the road was blocked by the landslide, he said.
And, another 20 to 25 people were evacuated from 17 homes along Fircrest Way higher up the hill that is being undermined by the slide. Land is falling away just 10 feet from one home.
Before and after photo of mudslide on Whidbey Island, courtesy Washington Department of Natural Resources
The slide area extends about 400 to 500 yards across the hillside and down 600 or 700 yards to the water, Hartin said, and its cause is unknown.
Residents that heard the slide about eight miles south of Coupeville described it as sounding like thunder.
"It was a mix of rumbling and snapping trees," Hartin said. "We were hearing the same thing when we arrived."
On Wednesday afternoon the slide still showed signs of movement, Hartin said, and deputies told residents in the affected homes to pack as fast as they could because the slide was still active.
"It's possible more homes could be lost. We're trying to ensure the safety and awareness of people," Hartin said. "There's not anything we can do to stop the movement of the ground."
Neighbors began helping neighbors load furniture, appliances, and clothing, hoping to haul it all away before deputies order everyone out for their own safety.
"We don't even know where the trucks are going," one woman said. "Just getting them the hell out of here."
Delia Curt was trying to keep her head together realizing her Whidbey Island dream overlooking the water may be over.
"I have no feelings whatsoever," she said. "I'm totally numb."
Nearby, Bret Holmes took a moment to reflect on what may happen to the family home he grew up in.
"It's kind of painful to look at it," he said. "Kind of numbing, to be honest."
There has been no significant rain in recent days so the immediate cause of the slide is unknown. But the area has been prone to slides in the past, Hartin said.
A geotechnical expert was being brought in to assess the slide and the danger to homes. If the slide stabilizes, some people might be allowed to return. But others have homes that are now unreachable.
"Being cut off from the road, water and power," residents had to leave, said Island County Sheriff Mark Brown. "It's a pretty massive mudslide."