Mudslides close roads, trap drivers in central Washington

TWISP, Wash. - Rain unleashed mudslides on land left bare by wildfires, washing down hillsides and damaging homes and closing highways in north central Washington.

There were no reports of injuries from Thursday night's mudslides, but specifics were hard to come by because some of the phone and radio towers that serve the area were knocked out in summer wildfires.

Sections of Highway 20 and Highway 153 near Twisp that were hit overnight remained closed Friday morning, said Transportation Department spokesman Jeff Adamson.

There are at least two slides on Highway 20 in the 30-mile stretch east of Twisp to Okanogan, Adamson said. And an 8-mile section of Highway 153 is closed, although there is a detour.

Crews were out at daylight Friday assessing the damage and starting to work, but they were at risk of more mudslides, Adamson said.

Another round of thunderstorms was forecast with a flash flood watch through Friday evening, said meteorologist Steven Van Horn at the National Weather Service office in Spokane.

Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said Thursday night he heard some homes along State Highway 153 near Twisp were damaged.

Five to 12 vehicles were marooned on Highway 153 by mud and slides, Washington State Patrol Trooper Darren Wright said. Troopers and sheriff's deputies worked late Thursday night to get the people out.

Tarrie Darwood and her husband were at work and separated from their 12-, 10- and 5-year-old kids at home when they heard about the slide.

"When they said (Highway) 153, my first thought was, 'where?' and when they said where, I just thought, 'O...K... I'm glad my 12-year-old can handle it,' " she said.

She said they were able to walk across one of the slides and made it home just after midnight.

"I was OK with (the kids) because they've been left alone this summer and they've handled it, but it was raining and they had no power and they were a little scared but everybody did really well, I was pretty impressed," she said.

But now, she says it might be a while before her home is easily reachable again.

"It could be a couple of days before we're able to get anywhere -- we're stuck at home with no power, no water, unless we've got our generators that we had working during the fire," Darwood said. "We have the river behind us and slides on either side of the highway so we're pretty much stuck and can't get out."

The Carlton Complex of wildfires burned more than 400 square miles in the area this summer and 500 firefighters are still mopping up.

"This flooding is in the areas that were burned," Adamson said. "It brings down rocks, mud and water."

More rain and mudslide threats will prolong the highway closures, he said

"If you've got an unstable slope, you just have to pull the crew and wait until tomorrow," Adamson said.

Crews on the scene weren't able to contact their offices.

"As a result of the fires up there we lost cellphone and microwave towers," Adamson said. "Once those guys are away from a hard line, phones are not an option."

About an inch of rain fell in an hour around 7 p.m. Thursday around Twisp, Van Horn said.

"It was slow moving showers with embedded thunderstorms," he said. "It just kind of dumped in one area."

On the east side of Washington, a thunderstorm struck Spokane at rush hour on Friday morning. Heavy rains left standing water on portions of Interstate 90. However, there were no reports of problems.