The Curry County Board of Commissioners voted in a special meeting Tuesday to declare an emergency after last weekend’s torrential storm, asking the state Office of Emergency Management and FEMA to help with costs associated with the damage, which could top $1 million.
It is the second emergency declaration the county has requested in less than a month, after a storm Feb. 25 took out a quarter-mile of U.S. 101 at Hooskanaden Slide, 12 miles north of Brookings. Repairs there are expected to last all summer.
“We had a ‘Pineapple Express’ weather event with a substantial quantity of rain from Hawaii,” County Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Jeremy Dumire told the board. “It was pointed right at us, and we bore the brunt of it.”
Some areas reported up to 10 inches of rain in a 24-hour period Saturday — and that rain on Friday “primed the system,” he said.
The southern and northern ends of the county suffered the most damage, with flooded homes, overtopped rivers, downed trees and landslides.
The two worst incidents occurred on Gardner Ridge off North Bank Chetco River Road, where the roadway fell straight down the hillside near Cate Road, he said. The road runs through the scar of the 2017 Chetco Bar Fire and is more prone to landslides than forested areas.
“This will be a very costly situation for us,” Dumire reported. “We basically lost the road. It dropped straight down the canyon on the eastbound lane and undercut into the westbound lane of travel. It’s not repairable; you can’t put any fill under it. It did drop straight down.”
Repair, which County Roadmaster Richard Christensen estimates will cost at least several hundreds of thousands of dollars, will involve a complete replacement and possibly a rerouting of the road, he said. Crews are trying to cut into the hillside above to give residents a route to get home.
Langlois Mountain Road suffered road failures, too, at mile markers 5.5 and 6, where the road also fell and will need substantial work to repair.
The Chetco and Winchuck rivers overtopped their banks, flooding ranchland and homes, and Hunter Creek was flooded three times, concurrent with high tides. That, too, prevented some county employees living upriver to get to work in Gold Beach.
“The road crews were overtaxed,” Dumire said, adding that workers from the city of Gold Beach chipped in to help on a landslide a mile down Jerry’s Flat Road. “They worked 20 hours straight. The road department was taxed beyond its capabilities.”
The Chetco River’s water rise made it into the top 10 of historic flood events, cresting at 22.18 feet, Dumire said. By comparison, the flood of November 2012 crested at 22.9 and 22.08 feet during two high tides.
It might also be a record-setting rainfall for the month.
“This is a rather unusual event for us, especially in April,” Dumire said. “We’re used to seeing high rain events in December and January. This may prove to be a record setter for the month in Curry County.”
About 5 miles up the Winchuck River, crews had just finished removing debris from the road when another slide a half-mile farther upriver let loose, trapping a school bus headed back to town. Because of the consistency of the slide and its location, it was for a time too unsafe for road crews to address, Dumire said. The road there was to remain closed through Wednesday night to allow water to subside.
In town ...
The cities emerged virtually unscathed, Dumire noted.
The new gravel road built after the February storm at Hookanaden Slide is holding steady — so far.
“One thing have to watch for as the ground desaturates, I expect that will destabilize,” Dumire said. “This rain is acting like a glue until it dries out and we will see more slides. We will see more work in the future because of this event.”
Commissioners — Sue Gold and Court Boice attended the meeting via phone — lauded the county crews risking their lives to address the numerous situations throughout the county.
“People in this county need to realize the extent our employees go to t dot all their I’s and cross all the T’s to make sure people are safe,” Commissioner Chris Paasch said. “To see the danger some of the crews are under — slides are coming at them as they’re trying to move debris out of the way. … It gives you pause for the situation they’re in to do their jobs.”
Boice, who has been in Salem all week at the statehouse, said he would relay the emergency declaration to the governor’s office so legislators know the extent of damage Curry County has incurred in the past month and enable it to get assistance at the state and federal levels.