A landslide that slammed across State Highway 14 and pushed debris Thursday afternoon into the South Fork of the Clearwater River has left the already-remote Elk City isolated from the rest of the world.
Idaho County Sheriff Doug Giddings said road crews hope to be able to open one lane of the highway sometime Friday. But some residents speculated it could be even longer before ingress and egress is restored.
The cascading rocks, earth and trees also wiped out power lines, leaving the tiny community without electricity.
“It’s about halfway across the river. There is some pretty massive boulders in it, and trees,” said Jessica Montgomery, owner of the Elk City General Store. “It ripped out the power lines; they are kind of laying across the road and down across the other side of the road.”
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“I don’t suspect we will have power for a couple of days. It’s pretty bad,” she said. “They are going to need to get some big-boy equipment up there.”
Elk City is about 50 miles east of Grangeville and is surrounded by the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest. Once a booming mining town, it is now a quiet burg with about 200 residents.
Pat Doherty, a retired mining engineer from Elk City, estimated the debris field to be 20 to 30 feet deep over the road and said it contains boulders weighing as much as 20 to 30 tons. He said the hillside remains unstable.
“There was still stuff rolling down while we were standing there,” he said. “You could pioneer a road around the edge of it but you’d be out over the river.”
Montgomery said some residents have already visited her store to stock up on water and other supplies. Many people who live at or around Elk City get their water from wells. When the power goes out, so does their water.
“We are selling lots of water; there is water flying out of the store,” she said.
The slide is blocking the highway about 10 miles west of Elk City in the vicinity of Moose Creek. During the summer months, residents would be able to use backroads to detour around the blockage. But those roads are inaccessible this time of year because of snow at higher elevations.
“If you are in Elk City you are going to have to stay there,” Giddings said.
Doherty said there was some speculation that bulldozers could be used to plow the Elk City Wagon Road, a primitive route that connects Elk City and Harpster.
“They could have that open in a day or less,” he said.