Drier weather has come to Western Washington, but the effects of recent rainfall were still being felt Sunday as mudslides blocked roads and access to Mount Rainier National Park and flooding continued to affect residents in the Nisqually Delta area.
An ongoing mudslide continued to slither across Highway 706, also known as “The Road to Paradise,” at the southwest corner of Mount Rainier National Park. The road is closed to all nonemergency vehicles at milepost 10.18.
“There are hundreds of yards of debris, up to 6 feet in some places,” Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) spokesperson Doug Adamson said Sunday afternoon. “It’s a very active slide — you can see it, you can hear it and large rocks are falling off the hillside.”
WSDOT geotechnical engineers reported a very unstable slope above the highway, which closed Thursday, making conditions too dangerous to clear until further notice. “It’s not something where we can just go in and scrape off the roadway,” Adamson said. “We know this is a popular route into the park, but if anyone crosses those areas, they are putting themselves in undue danger. Life safety is paramount.”
All three wintertime entrances to the park are closed until further notice. “We’ve had mudslides and flooding at all major access points,” National Park Service spokesperson Terry Wildy said. “Things are still being assessed.”
The park was evacuated on Friday. “We’re trying to maintain emergency access in and out of the park for essential staff,” Wildy said, “and for our Ashford residents who’ve been cut off by the landslide.” (The small community of Ashford lies along Highway 706, near the park’s Nisqually entrance.)
Inside the park, the basements of some historic buildings — including the National Park Inn, which dates to 1916, and the Longmire Administration Building, which was completed in 1930 — have flooded while water continues to flow across park roads.
“We won’t know the full extent of the damage until that all settles out,” Wildy said. “There’s more to come.”
WSDOT spokesperson Angie Millar said another mudslide further north was still blocking state route 11, also known as Chuckanut Drive, near Bellingham. The agency cannot yet estimate when crews will be able to clear either obstruction.
“It all depends on the weather, and whether more land falls,” Millar said. “If drivers do see road closure signs, they shouldn’t ignore them. We don’t want people to get hurt and don’t want cars stuck in water or mud. We don’t take the decision to close any roads lightly.”
As of Sunday evening, crews were still clearing the road to Crystal Mountain, State Route 410, and were beginning to open portions to local traffic only. The ski resort was closed through the weekend after the roadway was blocked by debris including trees and power lines.
In Thurston County, officials urged residents in the Nisqually Delta area who have been affected by recent floods to boil their water before using, until further notice. Well water could be contaminated even if the property did not directly flood, officials said.
The National Weather Service (NWS) is forecasting a dry period last into Tuesday.
“We might have a light front on Tuesday, but nothing major,” Samantha Borth, a meteorologist for the NWS said. “Beyond that, we might become a little more active with precipitation, but nothing like what we’ve been seeing.”
A few rivers in the area remain at minor flood status, including the Green River, the White River and the Cedar River, but Borth said they’re expected to fall below flood stage by midweek.