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Heavy rain sends massive boulders crashing on Oregon highway

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 28, 2020

Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. – Rockslides triggered by unrelenting rain have closed local roads and highways around Oregon, including a highway near Crater Lake National Park that was closed Tuesday after two boulders the size of a small living room crashed down, narrowly missing a passing car.

The giant boulders fell from a hillside that has endured pounding rain and repeated freezing and thawing of the rock because of harsh winter conditions, said Gary Leaming, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation. The driver of the Toyota SUV came around a curve on the windy and rural highway near Prospect, Oregon and swerved to miss the first boulder, but crashed into the second.

“They got out to survey (the damage) and more came down and some might have struck them,” he said, adding that one and possibly both passengers had been taken to a hospital but were expected to survive.

About 2 miles of the highway are closed as geologists and hydrologists inspect the slide, Leaming said.

The boulders are about 15 feet by 15 feet, he said, and dwarfed the large SUV in size.

Elsewhere, officials in Yamhill County said a driver was rescued from a flooded vehicle Tuesday morning near Amity after the car stalled in about a foot of water. The person got to safety by climbing into a local fire battalion’s truck.

State authorities also closed the Historic Columbia Highway between Multnomah Falls and the Angel’s Rest trailhead so crews could evaluate a small rockslide on a hillside made unstable by torrents of rain. More heavy rain was in the forecast for the Columbia River Gorge, the agency said.

Meanwhile, officials in Portland said a major commuter road that was shut down by a rockslide on Friday will remain closed for several more days in the eastbound direction, snarling traffic in the Portland metropolitan area. There are also delays of up to 20 minutes for drivers on U.S. 101 because of rockslide activity and “rough roads,” officials said Tuesday.

It has been the rainiest January that Portland has seen in two years, with nearly 6 inches of the wet stuff so far and more rain in the forecast. There were also avalanche warnings and winter storm warnings in effect for numerous Oregon counties through Tuesday.

Higher elevations in the Cascade Range have been hit hard with many feet of snow in January.

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