Kalama landslide creating long detour, clean up may take weeks - KPTV - FOX 12

Kalama landslide creating long detour, clean up may take weeks

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The landslide covering Kalama River Road. The landslide covering Kalama River Road.
KALAMA, WA (KPTV) -

A major landslide in Kalama is creating a long detour for more than 100 families, and the clean-up may not even start for more than a week because of the conditions.

The slide along Kalama River Road happened Wednesday morning, but began with just a few trees across the road.

Michael Eckert and others spent half an hour clearing it off half the road to let a school bus and other traffic through, when they realized Mother Nature wasn’t done.

“That’s when we started noticing bulging on the hillside,” Eckert told Fox 12. “It got to the point the hill was almost to the white line [on the road] and I was like man this ain’t looking good, then we started really looking up at the trees and noticing they were just starting to lean downhill and that’s when I got out of here.”

He said 20 minutes later, the rest of it came down between crews already on the road.

“We had a sheriff down here and he was actually standing right in there and he had his rig right in there and I was sort of worried about him,” Eckert said.  “It sounded like a jet airplane going over, just a low-volume rumbling, but I knew what that meant.”

The land that slid belongs to Eckert. He guessed he lost more than half an acre - including valuable timber - in the process.

“I haven’t really been able to get up there to see exactly how much I lost but I figure it’s about 200 feet wide and, well, all the way to the top up there which is quite a bit,” he added. “This is the largest slide I’ve seen in 20 years, since I’ve lived here.”

Mark Koelsch, with Cowlitz County Public Works, said roughly two acres of earth moved in the slide, making it “significantly larger” than the landslide along the same road that wiped out an entire home in December 2015.  

Koelsch said geotechnical engineers surveyed the site and aren’t sure whether it’s done moving, so for now, nobody is in the affected area to start clean-up. The city hopes to secure a contractor to begin work early next week, although the scope of the project is so large Koelsch said they’ll have to request emergency funding from county commissioners to get the job done.

Best case scenario, Koelsch said, Kalama River Road could reopen in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, Eckert - and more than 100 other families who live in the area and lost power for a time after the slide - are taking a very long detour to reach Kalama, turning a normally 20 minute drive into an hour and 20 minutes.

“We had another landslide almost this big on the property next to us and that was in 1995, that’s why my house is back up on the hill because I lived through that one,” Eckert said. “We’re in this valley here, we just expect [landslides]. It’s sort of like something you just deal with when you live up here.”

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