U.S. 101 at the Hooskenaden Slide area is closed for a yet-to-be-determined length of time after torrential rains undermined soil below the roadway, dropping the pavement almost 3 feet below grade Monday — and another 9 feet Tuesday.
“It hasn’t stopped moving, so it’s closed until we can come up with a plan to fix it,” said Brian Watgen, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) maintenance manager for the area from Bandon to the California-Oregon border.
ODOT District Manager Darrin Neavoll said Tuesday morning they’d hoped to get a single lane open later that day — but admitted that might be wishful thinking. His thoughts were prescient.
“It’s actively moving,” a press release from the agency said hours later. “Yesterday morning, reports were that the road surface had sunk approximately 2 feet below grade. Twenty-four hours later, the road surface in places is more than 12 feet below grade, and there are multiple sections of buckled or torn road surface. There is active movement of the ground both above and below the slide.
“Be prepared for this to be a long term event,” the press release continued. “This will not be as simple as opening a lane up for traffic within short order. The damage to the highway is both impressive and extensive.”
Drivers were detoured to Carpenterville Road, which itself is muddy after torrential rains struck the area this weekend.
The damage prevented delivery trucks — gasoline, groceries and food for restaurants among many others — from getting to Brookings. Fred Meyer and Dollar General ran out of milk Monday night — and gasoline Tuesday afternoon.
Watgen said this incident, which involved pavement dropping 2 feet in a half-day and tearing guardrails at either end from their posts, isn’t the worst he’s seen.
And ODOT workers at the north end of the district in Coos Bay were also dealing with an incident at Four Mile that closed U.S. 101 Monday.
“We just started to open it up when this one happened,” Watgen said. “It was a double-hit day.”
A torrent from the skies
More than a foot of rain in Brookings — and more than 18 inches in the hills surrounding town — has fallen over the area in the past four days, leading to mudslides, road closures and flooded culverts, ditches, creeks, roads in low-lying areas throughout the region.
The “atmospheric river” began its onslaught in earnest Friday with high winds and torrential rain. The system extended south through Del Norte County and north into Coos County, with Curry County receiving the brunt of the weather.
The system was so severe and widespread, the National Weather Service even gave it a name: Winter Storm Ryan, which is slowly moving east into the Cascades and Rocky mountains. In some places in the Sierra Nevadas and through Montana, 5 to 10 feet of snow is forecast to fall.
The storm weakened Monday afternoon; there is a 20 percent chance of rain Wednesday, National Weather Service reports indicate.
According to Curry County Roadmaster Richard Christensen, central Curry County was hit the hardest, with flooding and slides on Hunter Creek Road forcing it to close Sunday night until it reopened Monday.
“No vehicle could get through,” he said. “And I’m sure there’s slides in the Agness and Illahee areas, and we’re expecting Lobster Creek Bridge to close with the high waters on the Rogue.”
The Rogue River in Gold Beach crested in connection with a high tide at 3:30 Monday afternoon. The road to the airport there was also closed due to flooding in low-lying areas.
A slide across from Kissing Rock a mile south of Gold Beach sent a large chunk of hillside with trees, rocks and mud careening towards the freeway below mid-morning, taking out telephone poles and disrupting telephone and internet service to area residents for the rest of the afternoon.
The downpour packed a one-two punch, melting snowpack in the hills that quickly filled creeks and rivers, churning a chocolate milk brown as the ground refused to accept any more moisture.
Some overflowed their banks resulting in flooding that worried Hunter Creek residents who have historically fallen victim to deluges, and many of whom were taking up the offer of free sandbags to safeguard their homes. By Monday afternoon an earlier high tide had water flowing onto roadways, as well.
Gold Beach City Administrator Jodi Fritts said all hands were on deck as the city braved the storm.
“Our water treatment plant has been doing well and there is no sign of water-related turbulence issues for the drinking water,” she said.
Fritts said five homes off East Quarry Road in Gold Beach were temporarily isolated due to storm runoff, which weakened the underpinnings of the main road to homes there.
“We have blocked it off for safety reasons and hope to get it shored up quickly,” Fritts said.
Also under water were northern restrooms at Buffington Memorial Park when Riley Creek couldn’t contain the onslaught of water.
Fritts thinks the city dodged a bullet.
“Our infrastructure is holding up with little damage,” she said. “I have to hand it to our public works guys. They are all doing an awesome job, all things considered. We are holding our own.”
Water was pouring off Thompson Creek and Gardner Ridge roads on North Bank Chetco River Road Monday, Christensen said.
A flood warning remained in effect Tuesday on the Rogue River near Agness where water was reported at 18.1 feet; the flood stage there is 17 feet.
“All staff is on storm patrol throughout the county,” Christensen said. “We’re cleaning culverts and ditches and taking calls as fast as we can trying to keep up with the workload. There’s a lot of work going on.”
The Chetco River was flowing at 32,800 cubic feet per second (cfs) Monday morning. The maximum it had ever seen on that day was in 2009, when 12,000 cfs was measured. The gauge at Second Bridge was at 17 feet, a foot from flood stage, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. By Tuesday, the river had dropped to 15,700 cfs.
Travel in the entire southwest corner of the state is precarious, with inundated soils that could slide and fell trees, according to state transportation officials. In addition to the flooded area, drivers should be alert for standing water on roads, sunken sections and hazardous debris in the roadway. Drivers are asked to keep an eye out for ODOT personnel and equipment working on the highway.
Numerous roads throughout Southwest Oregon were closed, and drivers are urged to check routes before travel.
Other roads affected included a section 6 miles north of Langlois where traffic was down to one lane, U.S. 101 south of Bandon at Four Mile and U.S. 101 south of Crescent City at Last Chance Grade.
Northeast of Brookings, closures were also reported on Interstate 5 between Sutherlin and Cottage Grove, Oregon 42S between Coquille and Bandon, Oregon 138 West between Sutherlin and Elkton, Oregon 38 west of Elkton, Oregon 138 east of Glide to West Toketee and Oregon 42 in Coos County.
Pilot Gold Beach Correspondent Randy Robinson contributed to this report.
Before you go...
Roads throughout Southern Oregon are under various stages of closure after a severe storm moved through the area last weekend. Drivers are encouraged to visit TripCheck.com, dialing 5-1-1 or Oregon and California road reports before heading out.