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Mudslides keep North Cascades Highway closed

WENATCHEE, Wash. — Crews working to clear mudslides from Highway 20 would like to reopen the North Cascades Highway by this weekend, but it could be sometime next week, a Transportation Department spokesman said.

It’s hard to estimate a reopening day because of the extent of damage from intense thunderstorms last weekend, spokesman Jeff Adamson said Tuesday.

The highway is closed each year by winter snow and avalanches, and small mudslides are typical in summer months, “but nothing like this,” he said. “This is uncommon.”

The department issued an emergency contract to bring in big bulldozers and other heavy equipment to remove eight significant slides that have closed a 10-miles section of the highway west of Rainy Pass.

The biggest slide is about a quarter-mile long, covering two lanes with rock, trees and mud 25 feet deep. “And it’s all wet and heavy,” Adamson said.

The scenic drive through the North Cascades National Park is traveled by about 2,000 vehicles a day in the peak summer period, he said.

Heavy weekend rains also washed out a road and stranded 65 hikers near Marblemount. The downpour also caused washouts and mudslides in the Colockum area south of Wenatchee, which was burned last week by a wildfire.

A radar image of the Saturday night storm indicated hail and torrential rain of more than an inch an hour, University of Washington atmospheric sciences professor Cliff Mass wrote on his blog. Storm totals on the east side of the Cascades were 4 to 6 inches, he wrote.

The hikers were stranded when the storm washed out the road Sunday night near a trailhead 23 miles off Highway 20 near Marblemount. They were able to get out Monday on a temporary road, the Marblemount Wilderness Information Center said.

Floodwaters churning with mud and debris raced out of canyons and down hillsides blackened and left bare by the Colockum Tarps Fire, The Wenatchee World reported ( ).

A massive washout of Robinson Canyon transformed the property of Bill Scroggie into a field of river rock.

“All this stuff was yard. Beautiful yard,” said Arny Lorentzen, a 15-year area resident who was at the Scroggies’ home Monday to retrieve a pickup truck.

“Lightning and rain and the fire all at once. It was kind of wild,” said Lyndell Hobbs of Ellensburg on Monday, as he headed up Colockum Pass Road to check on 200 head of cattle he grazes at the Colockum Natural Resource Center. He said he thought the cattle made it through OK.

Chelan County Public Works Director Mitch Reister said the wildfire left the land vulnerable to mudslides.

“Had there not been a burn, we would have had some mud here and there, but we wouldn’t have what we’re dealing with now,” he said.

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