WHEELWRIGHT — Brenda Mullins is angry.
She said no one paid attention to her complaints a month ago when a crack 50 feet long indicated the hillside below her rented Wheelwright home was sliding downhill, and now she thinks city, county, state and federal offices are "passing the buck" while she and her husband are homeless.
They're not alone. Residents of 11 other nearby houses have been evacuated after the city declared an emergency because of a mudslide that threatens the area.
"It seems like the government officials don't care," Mullins said. "I can't sit in my living room and quietly watch the news, but they can."
Mullins, 61, and her husband, Harry, 64, are disabled and have been living for a year in a house near two blocked-off portals to an abandoned underground mine above the center of the Floyd County town.
She said that, about a month ago, a mudslide started to carry part of the hillside down toward the main road and several homes that front it. Mullins got nervous, she said, and called the state Abandoned Mine Lands program, which contacted the federal Office of Surface Mining, which oversees emergency investigations related to abandoned mines.
A couple of weeks later, after two officials had taken pictures and tested water seeping through the soil under Mullins' house, she said, the Office of Surface Mining in London told her the water causing the mudslide was not mining-related.
Then this weekend, the crack started growing.
A huge tree toppled down the hillside. The sidewalk in front of Mullins' neighbors started shifting. Bricks fell away from a foundation, and cracks formed in basement walls.
City officials declared an emergency and ordered the homes evacuated. For good measure it asked residents of the eight homes at the bottom of the hill to leave too. All told, about 17 people in 12 houses have been affected, Wheelwright Mayor David Sammons said.
"I don't think people realize just how dangerous it might be," Sammons said.
He said the mine behind the four homes has been closed for decades and is near the city's groundwater reservoirs that hold millions of gallons. He said he is worried about what could happen if enough pressure builds up in those reservoirs and finds an outlet in a hillside or unknown, blocked-off mine portal.
But it's unclear whether the water that's carrying mud down the hill below Brenda Mullins' house is coming from a mine, so it's unclear who is responsible for stopping the slide and repairing damage. At least some of the homes are built on mine spoil or fill, Sammons said. Government inspectors visited the site Monday to test water in the mine portal and down the hill.
Steve Rathbun of the Office of Surface Mining in Ashland said he was unaware of any previous complaints about the Wheelwright mudslide, but the results of this week's tests could lead to a determination about cause as soon as Wednesday.
If mining is ruled the cause, then Office of Surface Mining money can be spent to mitigate the slide and maybe fix homes. But if investigators rule that mining isn't the cause, then no one is sure where the money will come from.
The slide is technically on private property, Sammons said. Although the city declared a state of emergency, Floyd County Emergency Management director Jim Caldwell said the county has not.
Sammons said the Red Cross was available to help, and the Wheelwright Baptist Center was ready to house and feed anyone who needed help.
"We'll have to see if we can get help from the governor," the mayor said. "We don't have money like that around here."
Mullins, who said she has already paid the rent on her house and didn't want to leave, is staying with her husband at his sister's house in nearby Weeksbury.