Flash flood knocks out stretches of railway and Highway 14
OVERFLOW: A huge volume of water channeled into draws overwhelming culverts. Work crews begin repaving a section of SR14 where a basin was filled to about 50 feet deep until it overflowed the highway, damaging the guardrail and buckling the asphalt. The culvert seen at the lower right, above, was not plugged and was scoured clean by the deluge.
Highway 14 was open for business again Monday evening after Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) crews cleared mud and debris from the road and repaved washed out portions following Saturday night’s flash flood. The flood and mud swept across and under the road and railroad, halting traffic on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad and the state highway. The railroad was running again early Monday morning, but road repairs kept SR14 blocked between Roosevelt and Alderdale until 7:25 p.m. Monday night. It will take more work to repair damage to the roadside.
Alderdale Fire Department chief, Pete Mercer said he first got the call from the Sheriff’s dispatcher Saturday evening saying it was reported that the Columbia River was overflowing SR14. Mercer said his initial reaction was that they should notify John Day Dam because “McNary Dam must have broke.”
Rain fell across Klickitat County from one end to the other throughout Saturday, but the amount was nothing unusual for a summer storm. Mercer says that they received about 1/8 inch of rain on the plateau above Alderdale. A report of flooding by any source was enough to pique his interest, however and he drove down to the highway to investigate. What he saw was a number of vehicles stranded on the road with mud and water across the highway and the railroad tracks. “I could see the headlight of a train coming and called dispatch to try and stop it. Part of the track was hanging in the air.” Fortunately, the Amtrak train, which was heading east had already been notified of the problem and came to a halt before reaching the damaged track.
Reports of rainfall ranged from three to five inches, apparently falling in a short time, sending millions of gallons of water down the cliffs, channeled into several narrow draws where it eroded out soil and rock. The mixture swept across the road in some areas and overwhelmed culverts in others. In one area water apparently swirled and filled up an area on the north side of the road until it overflowed the road 50 feet above, causing the blacktop to buckle and crack. It was still oozing water when road crews arrived. The scene was repeated in several locations along a three-mile stretch of the highway.
There were no injuries and the only vehicle that Mercer was aware of that got swept off the highway was a motorcycle. According to Mercer, the rider got off his bike in the downpour and scrambled to higher ground when he saw the water coming. He got away, but the bike was washed off into the ditch. Mercer said there were no crops damaged up top because the rain fell right on the ridge. “Some went down Six Prong [Creek] and some went down the slope.” A life-long resident, Mercer doesn’t recall ever seeing that much rain in so short of a time in that area.
BUCKLED: The force of flowing water undermined portions of SR14 causing the asphalt to buckle.
According to Gus Melonus, spokesman for BNSF out of Seattle, two segments of track, each about 100 feet long were undercut with gaps as deep as five feet. Another portion of the track was buried when mud from a 60 foot slope above the tracks sloughed off and covered 300 feet of track up to five feet deep in mud and rock. About 30-35 workers for BNSF from Vancouver to Pasco worked to get the railroad repaired and operational by 12:30 a.m. on Monday. Amtrak was given clearance around 2:30 a.m ., according to Melonus. Sensors had detected “a load” on the tracks and traffic was shut down by BNSF dispatch, including the Amtrak train. The route handles 35 trains per day, said Melonus. “We rerouted through Stampede Pass, Stevens Pass and along the south side of the Columbia River.”
WSDOT spokesperson, Heidi Sause reported that 600 feet of roadway had to be repaved. The repair cost is estimated at $150,000. Crews worked to remove mud and rocks on Sunday and began paving Monday morning. “Drivers can expect daytime single-lane traffic and flaggers through the slide are for the next two weeks while crews clean out roadside ditches, remove remaining debris and repair damaged guardrail,” said Sause.