"When the tree's coming down it just shoots right down the canyon. and you don't have much time to react," says Mike Spaeth with the Oregon Department of Transportation.
A quarter mile section of debris filled with mud, snow, trees, and rock measueres ten feet deep! It has forced officials to close Highway 126 at milepost 25, just East of Mapleton.
A mess this will not be easy or quick to clean up. ODOT says even after the trees are cleared from the road, it's some of the ones left standing that pose an even greater risk. Joe Harwood with the Oregon Department of Transportation says, "Between here and the Peterson tunnel on the way to the Oregon Coast there are approximately 450 trees that are either down or leaning toward the highway or power lines."
Officials blame the dangerous combination of rain, which saturates the soil, and snow, which weighs down the trees. In fact, ODOT had a scare of their own Sunday morning when a few uprooted trees caused a mini landslide right around them. "We heard it all coming down and then saw it block the road from behind us," says Speath.
The landslide didn't weigh down on everyone. Just down the road, the Walton Mountain Country Kitchen was slammed with business. Owner Larry Shaddon says, "We are getting a lot of local business because people's power are out so they come down here to eat."
We also met a group of guys taking a weekend boys trip until it got cut short by the falling hillside. Avlanche witness Bruce Mulligan tells us, "John is the one who let us know. He was out in the sauna and all of a sudden trees starting exploding around us and he came streaking naked. He was complaining about all the blowing up trees. And he said, 'It's time to get out of here!"' They spent six hours getting three miles to safety by cutting through trees and digging through snow.
Now, ODOT crews are busy plowing, sanding, and cutting down hazardous trees and say so far, nobody has been hurt from the slides. In order to keep it that way, any trips to the coast in the near future might have to be put on hold. Harwood says, "We know it's inconvenient but we need to put the safety of the motoring public first."
Highway 126 will remain closed through tomorrow. Highway 36 is also closed at Mapleton except for local traffic due to a separate landslide. For now, folks can detour on Highways 20 or 38.