Landslides close Historic Columbia River Hwy, I-84 reopens

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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Multiple landslides forced closures of I-84 and the Historic Columbia River Gorge Highway in the gorge Thursday.

ODOT officials announced around 7 p.m. Thursday, both eastbound and westbound lanes of I-84 have reopened after a debris slide closed the roadway between Troutdale and Hood River.

A landslide swept over and forced the closure of Historic Columbia River Highway from Larch Mountain Road in Corbett to I-84 at Ainsworth State Park, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday afternoon.

That landslide was reported on the interstate between milepost 36 and 37 early Thursday morning. Icy conditions, downed trees and powerlines are also creating road hazards in Hood River County, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Vehicles are getting on the highway around 9 p.m. Thursday, but semis were lined up along the side of the highway and parked at a truck stop for hours.

ODOT said they sent a hydro-geologist to assess the area. They got it to the point they felt comfortable opening the road.

“When we have all of this rain and all of this snow, we know that landslides, and rock slides and flooding and all of the things we’re seeing now are going follow,” Angela Beers-Sydel of ODOT said.

“This was the same spot where we had a major slide last year where unfortunately a woman did die in it,” Beers-Sydel explained.

She said ODOT diligently watches this area for movement – it’s part of the burn scar from the Eagle Creek fire in 2017.

“We expect to be dealing with this site for another 5 to 10 years before things are stable,” Beers-Sydel said.

She also noted that ODOT crews do what they can when to keep the area as stable as possible. “We’ll take down materials we can, we send rock scalers up and they’ll pull down all the vegetation, the rocks, all the mud that they can,” Beers-Sydel said.

Beers-Sydel reminds everyone if you see a hazard or something potentially hazardous, it’s very important to report it. “It really helps if you see something that you give us a call so that we can get on top of it.”

She says travel isn’t “normal” right now because of what we’re seeing – high water, land, debris and rock slides and warns people to drive for the conditions and be really aware of what’s going on around you.

Another landslide struck near Wahkeena Falls, closing portions of the Historic Columbia River Highway.

U.S. 26 is currently open as an alternate route between Central Oregon and the Portland area.

According to MCSO, the shifting land could continue as the snow continues to melt and the soil is saturated from all the rain.

Experts said the gorge is prone to these events, too, which are sometimes deadly. Just one year ago, a woman died after a landslide swept her off I-84 while she was following her husband in another car.

Professor Scott Burns, who teaches geology at Portland State University, says these are debris flows as opposed to a landslide where a side of a hill or mountain just falls off.

“First of all, we had so much rainfall — just continuous,” Burns said. “Strike one, you have steep slopes. Strike two, weak soils. Then, all you have to do is add the water.”

Crews are working to clear the landslides, but there is no estimated time when the road will be reopened.

Don Hamilton from ODOT told KOIN 6 there’s a lot of water in the area, and they are bringing in hydrologists and geologists to ensure no more material comes down.

“Debris slides after periods of heavy rain are nothing new in Oregon and that’s what happened in the Columbia River Gorge Thursday,” said ODOT.

A semi-truck was reportedly jack-knifed and leaking fuel blocking the road near milepost 53, which ODOT said is complicating the reopening efforts.

Northwest Bridge Avenue was closed in both directions near St. Johns Bridge through Thursday morning after a landslide was reported late Wednesday night.

“Rain to snow to fog to ice to high winds to maybe a teasing hint of sun and back to rain again,” said ODOT. “Oregon has been like that this week with lots of everything everywhere all the time. Even for Oregon, it feels like it won’t stop. “

There’s a slow down on Interstate 205 with the left lane blocked at Airport Way on the Washington-Oregon border.

Several major roadways in Southwest Washington are experiencing delays and closures, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Significant standing water has forced officials to close Interstate 5 near Kalama.

State Route 14 is closed to large commercial vehicles near Washougal from milepost 17 to milepost 65 near Hood River.

Mud and down trees are blocking both directions of SR 411 near Hazel Dell. Another mudslide on Allen Street in Kelso has prompted RiverCities Transit to place Route 57 on a snow route.

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