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Originally published Tuesday, November 23, 2010 at 8:50 PM

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Wind, waves take toll on house

A Burien couple's home was deemed unsafe after Monday's winter storm left their house tipping at a perilous angle toward Puget Sound, city officials and neighbors said.

Seattle Times eastside reporter

A Burien waterfront home was leaning precipitously toward Puget Sound after Monday's winter storm.

The fierce wind and waves lashed at the house at 16705 Maplewild Ave., southwest of downtown Burien, washing away sand supporting the house's bulkhead. That in turn caused the supporting wall to drop and crack, moving the house about 18 inches, Burien City Manager Mike Martin said. Nobody was injured.

The city declared the house unsafe Tuesday afternoon, tagging it as uninhabitable, while utility workers shut down electricity and secured a broken gas pipe. The residents, a couple identified by friends and neighbors as Dane Johnson and Kathy Justin, evacuated.

"We're obviously concerned about it, but there isn't a lot we can do about it at the moment," Martin said.

The evacuation followed a cold Monday night without power, neighbors said. Around 6 a.m. Tuesday, Nancy Siwiec saw work crews passing her home and went outside to see what was going on.

Soon, Siwiec and other friends and locals were pitching in to help the couple move all their belongings up steep, slippery steps and up dirt trails to neighbors' garages.

By afternoon, the gray house stood largely empty, a camping chair and a blue cooler still on the deck. The house leaned visibly away from the embankment. Down on the beach, a large crack in the black bulkhead was visible. Friends said water had flooded the basement.

"What a sad thing," said neighbor Bill Becker.

Neighbors Randy and Barb Coplen let Johnson and Justin use their garage as temporary storage, but Randy Coplen also worried about his own house's stability.

On Tuesday, he reinforced his bulkhead with sandbags during low tide to prevent his house from toppling toward the water.

"Hopefully that will hold it," he said. "If not, the foundation that supports the house will start to go."

Monday's storm was so fierce and the waves so high that seawater splashed the Coplens' bedroom window, five stories above the water, he said. When the wind blows from the south as it usually does, there are no waves, he said. But when it blows from the north, the waves eat away at the beach, taking sand from under the bulkheads protecting the waterfront homes.

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At least one other neighbor's bulkhead was damaged by the storm.

The beach dropped at least six feet, the most Debbie and Bill Becker have seen in more than 20 years.

"The water is just so powerful, it does a lot of damage," Debbie Becker said.

Justin and Johnson, who bought their house in 2001 according to public records, are well known in the city, Martin said. The couple were behind a temporary sculpture park in Burien, and the city even named a day after them.

Friends have started an account to take donations on behalf of the couple. E-mail donate@bwbsea.com for more information about donating.

Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or ntsong@seattletimes.com

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