July 22, 2013 – Four people were injured when a mudslide forced cars to veer off United States Highway 395 in California south of Olancha near Dunmovin late last night. Cars swerved off the road trying to avoid the raging waters washing across the road that ultimately sent the driver and three passengers of one of the vehicles to the hospital.
According to Doug, a dispatcher for the California Highway Patrol, the call for aid came in at 12:20 a.m. regarding the incident in Inyo County. There was a call for aid for people injured when they approached the rushing water passing over the highway.
Six vehicles were caught up in the mudslide, four in the southbound lane and two in the northbound lane.
Original reports stated aid was called for three people; however, California Highway Patrol has updated the information to include all four people in a grey Toyota were transported to the hospital with non-serious injuries. The minor injuries included scrapes, bruises and knee pain.
An unnamed witness at the scene said he could hear the water roaring by; he compared it to the Truckee river that flows through Reno, Nevada. Although it was dark, he believes the debris field was at least 100 yards long and approximately three feet deep.
The witness had a discussion with the sheriff who was on the scene as he waited to determine what to do with his tractor and trailers; he claims the lawman said one car was “picked up by the waters and was thrown, it actually went airborne.” However, none of the cars were overturned or were buried; the mud was too thick and deep.
Familiar with the mudslide of 2010, the witness opined that he felt this incident was worse than before, from what he could tell as an observer. The 2010 mudslide occurred when the California Aqueduct became clogged with debris and overflowed.
A truck driver, the witness was just south of Olancha, when he noticed emergency vehicles driving past him some time after midnight when he assumed it was related to brush fires in the area. When he came upon the scene, he was stopped for nearly two hours before a decision was made to take his rig back the way he came, northbound on the southbound freeway.
The witness casually visited with the sheriff as he watched emergency personnel; they noticed there were no Caltrans (California Transportation) workers on the scene that night. According to the sheriff, medical aid had to come out Ridgecrest in order to treat the injured.
California Highway Patrol (CHP) confirmed the road was reopened this morning at 8:02 a.m. CHP is responding to a request regarding the status of the injured people, this report will be updated with details, as it is available.
This morning, the majority of the mudslide has been cleared from the roadway and the highway has been reopened to motorists. Although there is still debris alongside the road, traffic is no longer being impacted.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) confirmed this morning the incident was not caused by a breakage or clog in the California Aqueduct.
Florene Trainor of Caltrans stated there was a storm lasting around 30 minutes last night that caused the slide. The rains were possibly the proverbial “last straw” in an area already weakened by prior fires and slides from the California Aqueduct incident in 2010.
According to Trainor, it is a very volatile area and there is a potential of another occurrence. However, there are no residences in the area that would be threatened.
Motorists should be aware when traveling anywhere there is a potential for flash flooding they should be as prepared as possible. The National Weather Service touts a “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” campaign, reminding travelers they should not try to cross water, it is safer to find an alternate route.
By Dawn Cranfield
US News Special Correspondent