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Landslide killed nine workers in 1974

What are the facts related to a massive landslide that took the lives of several (I think) utility workers near Canyon Creek, just south of Canyonville?

— Tom, by email

Tom, it's a sad story of a disaster that did take the lives of several — nine to be exact — members of a telephone line repair crew who were working to repair the main phone cable running between Portland and Sacramento.

According to a report produced by the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, the Jan. 16, 1974, landslide was the result of heavy rains, steep slopes and unstable soil.

That there was heavy rain is indisputable — in the five days before the disaster, 11 inches of rain had fallen, and that was on top of two months of record precipitation. The DOGAMI report notes that the area is prone to slides, with steep slopes created over the eons by uplifting. The site included a mixture of soils and rocks "that was poorly consolidated and prone to move down steep slopes."

On the fateful day, the crew began working at 9:30 a.m. and worked all day in heavy rain. Just before 7 p.m., the slope failed and the crew was buried almost instantly by the 15,000 cubic yards of soil that cascaded down on them. Rescue attempts were hampered by continuing small slides. According to the DOGAMI report, only one member of the 10-man crew survived. Victims were found as far away as eight miles downstream, and one body was never recovered.

The slide killed three employees of a Gold Hill pipeline company and and six telephone workers.

Sharp-eyed motorists — or at least their passengers — can still see the site of the slide while traveling south on Interstate 5 about a mile south of Canyonville. The slide is on the east side of the freeway and is slowly filling in with trees that were planted in the aftermath. A large memorial cross was placed at the base of the slide area by the families of the dead men, and a formal memorial can be found in Stanton Park in Canyonville.

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