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Dangers of landslides: Portland geologist explains what to look out for

Scott Burns, a professor of geology at Portland State University, explained the ground is now saturated enough for landslides to occur this time of year.

PORTLAND, Ore. — From the mountains to the Oregon coast, many areas experienced impacts from the heavy rainfall on Friday. In addition to the flooding, it's important to look out for landslides this time of year.

In Southwest Oregon, Highway 138 West is expected to remain closed until Tuesday, Nov. 16 due to a rockslide 10 miles south of Elkton, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). Emergency contractors are working around the clock to remove 7,000 cubic yards of rock and debris blocking both lanes on the road. 

"This is an area where we often have rockslides, and we monitor it and we've actually been scaling the area, removing those rocks over the summer and other times of the year," explained ODOT spokesperson Dan Latham.

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Landslides can be an issue closer to home. Scott Burns, a professor of geology at Portland State University, said they keep an eye out for trouble spots this time of year. 

"Landslides, debris flows, and flooding are three things that we are very, very importantly looking at," said Burns. "I use the baseball analogy [for landslides] - three strikes and you’re out. First of all, if you have steep slope. If you have weak rocks or weak soil, that’s two strikes against you. Then, all you have to do is either add water, which is going to cause it, or earthquakes.

Burns explained that the ground is saturated with water enough for landslides to occur.

"This is the time of the year all the way through until April or May when we get most of the landslides," he said. "Primarily in the coast range and in the Cascades and in the Gorge. But any steep slopes also - and in Portland, we have a lot of steep slopes."

Learn more about landslides by clicking here.

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