PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A dozen people and one dog were stranded at Johnston Ridge Observatory overnight Sunday after a landslide shut down a section of State Route 504 in both directions near Coldwater Lake, officials confirmed to KOIN 6 Monday.
The landslide occurred Sunday around milepost 51, just ahead of the observatory. Officials with Gifford Pinchot National Forest said at least 11 individuals were forced to spend Sunday night near the observatory — likely inside their vehicles.
Shortly after 10 a.m. Monday, park officials reported King County Search and Rescue were in the process of helicoptering in and bringing those stranded individuals and dog to safety at Coldwater Science and Learning Center.
The U.S. Forest Service said electricity was also knocked out in the area.
With about 200 yards of debris covering the highway, the Washington State Department of Transportation warned there could be “significant structural damage” to the highway. King County Search and Rescue echoed that, saying the slide is active and the ground is unstable due to “dynamic” conditions in the area.
“The U.S. Forest Service obviously has an observatory up above that’s not going to be open for the season,” said Aaron Yemetz from the Washington Department of Transportation. “(It took) a tremendous amount of force to push a bridge off of its abutment and down the stream quite a ways.”
Although there is currently no estimated timeline for reopening, the WSDOT told KOIN 6 crews are working to clear debris from the highway as quickly as possible but say it will be a lengthy closure. The USFS told KOIN 6 that WSDOT is considering a contractor to help clear the debris.
“Right now, the material is heavily saturated. We aren’t even putting personnel or machines on top of the material, so that could take time itself for that material to drain out,” Yemetz said.
Park officials said the observatory will remain closed on Monday.
The public is urged to avoid the area as crews work to assess and clear the area.