Northwest storms blamed for 3 deaths damage Ore. highway, force shutdown of highway in Wash.

Thursday, November 9th 2006, 11:48 am
By: News On 6

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Heavy rain and flooding already blamed for three deaths in the Pacific Northwest washed out a major highway near Mount Hood on Thursday and forced authorities to close 59 miles of road in Washington state.

The White River flowed over Oregon 35 on Mount Hood's eastern flank on Monday and Tuesday, cutting 20 foot deep ruts through the pavement and sending boulders and trees rolling down the mountainside, said Bill Barnhart, an Oregon Department of Transportation manager.

Two creeks also wiped out a section of the same highway to the north, Barnhart said. Reopening the highway near Mount Hood is estimated to take $20 million.

The storms damaged hundreds of homes and broke rainfall records. At least three deaths were blamed on the flooding: two men swept into a Washington river and a 78 year-old woman found along the Oregon coast, where another woman was missing.

Rescue teams also continued to search for hunters who might be trapped in the southwest Washington hillsides between Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens, officials said Thursday.

Floodwater from swollen creeks and rivers damaged roads and destroyed campgrounds at Mount Rainier National Park, closing it for the first time since 1980 when Mount St. Helens erupted. Superintendent Dave Uberuaga said it would be at least several weeks before the park reopens to visitors.

Washington authorities decided to shut down a stretch of the North Cascades Highway on Thursday because of concerns about the stability of the ground under the roadbed.

On Mount Hood, as much as a million cubic yards of rock, mud and sand covered a quarter-mile stretch of road, Barnhart said.

``None of us at ODOT or the U.S. Forest Service have ever seen it this bad,'' Barnhart said. ``Our biggest concern right now is the safety of our workers.''

There were no estimates when the highway would reopen. The same highway washed out in the summer of 2005.

More rain was expected Friday and over the weekend, but it was not expected to be as heavy, said forecaster Chris Burke of the National Weather Service. While river levels were dropping, some were still at flood stage, with recovery and damage assessment still days away.