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Many Oregon Highways Impassable in Wake of Flooding

February 11, 1996

SALEM, Ore. (AP) _ Getting just about anywhere from the soggy towns of Willamette Valley was a mess Saturday, with mud or water blocking highways and low roads in all directions.

Major interstates linking Portland to Seattle and to points east remained closed or passable only through arduous detours.

In the Cascade Range, ski resorts thrilled with long-awaited snowfall are now looking for customers who can’t reach them.

``Many of our mountain passes, both to the coast and to central Oregon, are impassable. We have a few cases where smaller towns are essentially isolated. It’s ugly. You can’t overstate the magnitude of this,″ said Ron Scheele, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

At the Hoodoo Ski Area, west of Sisters, this should have been a banner weekend. The resort has 5 feet of snow, and the Winter Carnival celebration scheduled for this weekend usually draws thousands of skiers.

Instead, Hoodoo was closed.

``There hasn’t been any road access to here since Wednesday, so it’s a ski area with no skiers,″ said a glum Rick Saul, the resort’s marketing director. ``It’s been pretty discouraging.″

Things weren’t quite as bad at Oregon’s premier ski resort, Mount Bachelor, near Bend, which was reachable by some alternate routes from Portland and Salem.

``Today we have 5,000 people on our mountain. On a normal day we would have 7,000 people,″ said Kathy DeGree, vice president of marketing for Mount Bachelor Inc. ``A lot of people can’t get to us. That’s frustrating to us and it’s frustrating for skiers to know that there are great conditions here that they can’t tap into.″

Besides the disruption to tourism, the road closures also have disrupted commerce.

A case in point is the closure of Interstate 84, the major east-west freeway east of Portland. A massive mudslide west of Hood River will keep the freeway closed for a few more days. Meanwhile, tractor-trailer trucks loaded with goods are cooling their wheels at truck stops and rest areas.

``That’s one of the major routes where goods and services come into the Portland area,″ said Bruce Warner, a regional manager for the state transportation agency. ``If the closures go any for any length of time, I assume that we would start to see some impacts in grocery stores.″

Driving up from Portland to Seattle was out of the question, unless drivers were willing to take a roundabout route. A mudslide closed Interstate 5 in both directions at Chehalis, Wash.