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Rain swells Oregon rivers; slide shuts Highway 58


(Update: Slide closes Hwy. 58 at least overnight; evacuations along Row, Willamette rivers)

Amid steady, often heavy rain across Oregon that’s sending rivers rising, some over their banks, a landslide Sunday afternoon closed a 45-mile stretch of state Highway 58 west of Oakridge. Meanwhile, “historic” releases from a reservoir prompted evacuations near the Row and Willamette rivers in Lane County.

Oregon Department of Transportation officials said the slide occurred on the Willamette Highway about eight miles west of Oakridge, near milepost 28. It closed the highway from Lowell on the west to Crescent Junction on the east, about 13 miles west of the Highway 97 junction.

“The slide is unstable and material continues to come down,” ODOT said in a Sunday evening advisory.

ODOT later said the road would be closed overnight and that crews would be on site at 6 a.m. Monday “to assess the slide and begin cleanup, if it is safe to do so.”

“Travelers should avoid the area and expect an extended closure,” they said. “Local residents will be allowed past the road closures. All truck traffic is detoured.” The agency also warned that “many back and side roads remain snow-covered and are not passible.”

An ODOT spokesman advised Monday morning that the area had heavy tree damage in a recent snow storm and there were several smaller slides nearby.

Check updates on the highway and other roads across the state at our ODOT TripCheck page.

In Lane County, emergency managers said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers notified them that water was being released from Dorena Reservoir “at historic rates to avoid reservoir overflow,” higher than recorded in 1996 flooding.

Level 3 (Go Now) evacuation notices were issued in the floodplain of the Row River and on the Coast Fork of the Willamette River floodplain.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Carrie Carver said the American Red Cross has set up a shelter at the Community Center in Cottage Grove. She had no initial word on the number of homes or residents affected by the evacuations, but said sheriff’s patrol deputies and Search and Rescue were in the area to get the word out.

Elsewhere, the Lebanon Fire District and Linn County Sheriff’s Office rescued two people and a dog Sunday from the rain-swollen, fast-moving South Santiam River.

National Weather Service meteorologists say heavy rain could push several Oregon rivers and creeks into flood stage over the next several days while also raising the avalanche danger in the Cascades.

The Willamette River at Eugene and Albany and the Santiam River at Jefferson in northwest Oregon were expected to enter at least moderate flood stage.

The Salem Statesman Journal reported flooding is not expected to cause widespread damage seen in the floods of 1996 or 2012.

But meteorologist Laurel McCoy said there will be rivers and creeks in people’s backyards and real issues in a few places.

The most significant flooding was expected in the central and southern Willamette Valley between Eugene and Albany.

McCoy said the good news is that the weather hasn’t been warm enough in the mountains to melt a significant amount of Oregon’s robust snowpack.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service in Pendleton said rain is expected to continue across Central and Eastern Oregon through Monday night. The Cascades will see heavy rain, with another 2-3 inches, forecasters said.

“Most rivers and streams will have increased flows into next week,” their alert said. “Several are predicted to reach bankfull.”

Flood warnings were issued for the John Day River in Wheeler County and the North Fork John Day, affecting Grant County, as well as the Grande Ronde and Umatilla rivers.

On the John Day, the river at Service Creek was at nearly 10 feet late Sunday morning, with flood stage at 11.5 feet. Forecasters expect it to rise to near 15 feet by Wednesday morning, then fall below flood stage by Friday afternoon.

“Turn around, don`t drown,” forecasters said. “Never drive cars…trucks or sport utility vehicles through flooded areas. The water may be too deep to allow for safe passage. As little as one foot of water on the road can move most vehicles off the road.”

As several weather systems move through the Northwest, the NWS predicted another .71 of an inch of rain in Bend through Monday night, over a half-inch at Redmond and nearly a half-inch at Madras.

Mt. Bachelor reported rain turned to snow by midday Sunday, with strong winds making some lift holds and closures likely. “Due to weather and snow conditions, tubing is done for the season,” they reported.

The Northwest Avalanche Center also issued an avalanche warning for the Cascades, saying the heavy rain and snow at upper levels “will create very dangerous avalanche conditions” through Tuesday. “Backcountry travel is not recommended in avalanche terrain,” the warning stated.

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