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Californian frequent landslides sign of major geological change?

Posted on: April 5, 2011

A major artery through southern Humboldt County was shut down on March 30 following a massive slide of mud and rocks, the California Highway Patrol said. Officials estimated that the stretch of Highway 101 could be closed for up to two weeks. Tons of debris tumbled and slid onto the highway about 5 miles north of Garberville causing the road to buckle under the weight. California Department of Transportation spokeswoman Julie East estimated the slide was about 183 meters wide and about 460 meters up the side of the slope.

San Francisco Bay area cities, Hercules and San Pablo, also declared states of emergency this week as mudslides threatened homes in those communities.

To the south, crews worked throughout the day trying to clear an 2.5 meters high pile of mud, trees and debris that blocked a remote neighborhood in the Uvas Canyon area of Santa Clara County. About 15 people were cut off by the slide, according to Michael Murdter, director of the county’s Office of Public Communication Roads and Airports Department.

When it comes to keeping U.S. Highway 101 open, Humboldt State University geology professor Lori Dengler said the county has millions of years working against it.

”It all has to do with geology and the fact that we’re living on top of 100 million years of subduction, this process that slowly scrapes off sediment and slaps it along the coast and creates this melange — this pudding of rock,” Dengler said, adding that the rock pudding — when saturated with rainfall — is highly susceptible to the forces of gravity. “That’s the problem, and that’s always the problem.”

National Weather Service meteorologist Nancy Dean said this has been the third wettest March on record, noting that the Eel River Camp near the slide measured in at 16.47 inches of rain.

At the end of a soggy March, mudslides and erosion are cutting off homes and crumbling creek beds, stranding homeowners in Morgan Hill and forcing others to evacuate along Stevens Creek in Mountain View. At least three homes are at risk of sliding into the Peninsula creek after rains swallowed up entire backyards in a mobile home community. Residents, meanwhile, in the far south of the county near Uvas Canyon are waiting it out as crews try to dig out an 2.5 meteers high pile of mud and debris that buried Croy Road in one of the largest slides since 1998, when El Niño storms pounded California.

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