While Idaho Transportation Department crews worked Feb. 18 on a simple cleanup on Idaho 14, one worker pulled out a smartphone and captured a surprise landslide that has blocked the main route to the remote town of Elk City for the past week.
“We were just up there doing some road maintenance,” said ITD transportation technician Bret Edwards.
The video initially just shows rocks tumbling down the hillside onto the highway. Then a larger piece of the hill begins to move, and you can hear Edwards shouting as he runs away from the massive slide. The entire hillside sloughs off and the camera spins around.
When all was done, dirt, rocks and trees covered a 500-foot stretch of the road about 40 feet deep.
Edwards said he typically shoots phone video of the minor mudslides and rockslides he mops up. He didn’t expect to capture such a mass of debris crashing down.
“I've never seen anything like it before,” he said.
Edwards admitted it was a terrifying experience and said he felt “fortunate” nobody got hurt.
The slide briefly cut off electrical service to more than 650 account holders around Elk City and left everyone behind it largely stranded until Tuesday, when county, state and federal officials started convoys along an alternate route. That backup route is a soft forest road that had been covered in snow and could be damaged by too much use.
Both Idaho County’s commissioners and Gov. Butch Otter have issued disaster declarations, possibly opening the door to additional state and federal assistance. The county’s declaration estimated that it could take three or more weeks to reopen the highway, at a cost of more than $1.5 million, according to The Lewiston Tribune.
ITD spokesman Reed Hollinshead said Friday that his agency actually has no firm timeline for cleanup.
Crews are working to clear out enough space so that equipment can get to the other side of the mass of dirt, Hollinshead said. That’s “so we can be attacking it from both ends at once,” he said.
Inclement weather or another slide could set back the project.
“It's a huge amount of material,” Hollinshead said, probably more than 100,000 tons of rocks and dirt.