Slide blocks SR 410 near Naches, forces evacuations

Slide blocks SR 410 near Naches, forces evacuations
An aerial view shows a landslide blocking State Route 410 west of Naches, Wash.
NACHES, Wash. (AP) - A massive and growing landslide shoved a quarter-mile of State Route 410 into the Naches River, forcing the river to find a new course and causing some flooding in the sparsely populated valley on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range.

No injuries were reported from the slide early Sunday about 10 miles west of Naches, but the state Department of Transportation said about 60 residents near the community of Nile were being evacuated because of flooding fears. One home was heavily damaged by the slide and several others received water damage as the river sought a new course around the huge pile of dirt and rock.

Aerial photos showed large sections of road carried down to the river, which was completely blocked by the debris. The landslide was said to be about 30 to 40 feet deep over the highway, said Jim Hall of the Yakima County Department of Emergency Management.

Among those evacuated were about 16 boys from the Flying H Ranch, a residential program for troubled boys.

The slide "was like a knife had cut through the hill and moved everything to the side," ranch counselor Chris Rodriguez told the Yakima Herald-Republic. Rodriguez said some employees of the ranch stayed behind after the evacuation and reported that water from the river was threatening some buildings.

Hall said the total number of evacuees "won't be real big, but for them it's significant."

The highway runs west from Yakima across the Cascades at Chinook Pass, then along the eastern and northern edges of Mount Rainier National Park. As the slide grew Sunday, the state closed a 47-mile section of SR 410 between Lake Tipsoo near the pass and the junction with U.S. 12, five miles west of Naches.

Although U.S. 12 through White Pass remained open, nearby Cayuse Pass is closed for repairs and Interstate 90 across Snoqualmie Pass, the major east-west route in the state, was limited by construction work Sunday to two lanes westbound and one lane eastbound. With the Chinook Pass closure, officials estimated Sunday traffic at Snoqualmie Pass would increase by 20 percent, resulting in long delays.

Transportation Department crews began monitoring the slide area at about 2 p.m. Saturday when the hillside showed signs of movement, said spokeswoman Meagan McFadden. Some area residents also noticed their land heaving before the hillside gave way at about 6 a.m. Sunday.

McFadden said the cause of the slide was not known, but Washington State Patrol Sgt. Tom Foster said it appeared to be a result of earth shifting beneath the hillside.

The department tried using a section of Nile Road as a detour route until the slide damaged the road about 10 a.m. and the river put it under water. A gravel-surfaced mountain road was the only route left for local residents to use for evacuation.

As of late afternoon, the slide continued to increase in size and widen to the west.

"There are large sections of the highway buried or pushed into the river," said Don Whitehouse, Transportation Department regional administrator. "The slumping of the hillside and the uplifting of the valley floor continues. It will take several weeks before we can have a new roadway constructed and ready for traffic."

Foster said the owner of the house hit by the slide had noticed his driveway heaving Saturday afternoon. The owner moved into a trailer as a precaution before the slide occurred, Foster said.

The river worked its way around the blockage through private property, damaging several homes, then back into the river channel, said Robert Cunningham, a Bureau of Reclamation foreman who surveyed the area Sunday.

"The water is not backing up. It has rediverted over the Nile River Road and is taking its own course around the slide," he told the newspaper.

Pacific Power cut off electricity to about 800 residents after the slide damaged at least two power poles to avoid a possible outage that could affect several thousand customers, said spokesman Art Sasse in Portland, Ore.

Chinook Pass and Cayuse Pass normally close each winter because of heavy snow.