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caption: A landslide near Sekiu, Washington, one of three blocking state Route 112 on Nov. 17, spills into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. 
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A landslide near Sekiu, Washington, one of three blocking state Route 112 on Nov. 17, spills into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Credit: Washington state Department of Transportation

Makah Tribe works to obtain food provisions after landslides close highways

Makah tribal officials say intense rainfall triggered landslides and washouts that initially cut off access to and from their reservation at Neah Bay on the Olympic Peninsula. They've been working to ensure access to food, medicine, and fuel as tenuous travel routes are restored.

T.J. Greene chairs the Makah Tribal Council. He said the most immediate needs were for food deliveries and medical treatment.

“Some of the specific medicines that people need on a daily basis had to be delivered by helicopter, as well as dialysis patients were flown out by helicopter during this time, so it was pretty tense for people," he said.

He said some reservation residents were stranded in Port Angeles and unable to return home. One of those residents was able to help a dialysis patient who was flown there for medical care.

Greene said the tribe's gas station was also running low on fuel when the landslides occurred. “We had to shut down fuel sales to the community and limit it to emergency vehicles only,” he said.

Quillayute Airport, about 20 miles south of the Makah Reservation, got 8 inches of rain over Nov. 14-15, its second-rainiest two-day period on record, according to the National Weather Service.

Initially people had to take unpaved, unmarked logging roads to go anywhere outside the reservation.

Greene said state Route 112, the main road to the reservation at the northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula, is closed indefinitely, but there is now a detour around the landslides. He said people have to plan trips to Port Angeles carefully since U.S. Highway 101, which loops around the Olympic Peninsula, is only operating a single lane with scheduled hours each direction, with a pilot car in the lead.

“It makes for a very long day if you’ve got to go get groceries at Walmart or run into the pharmacies or a hospital appointment in Port Angeles or Sequim, which people are doing on a daily basis," he said.

Greene said donations to the tribe’s food bank would be the best form of assistance as they navigate the damage from what he calls “a climate event.” He said the increasing frequency of these events is threatening their infrastructure.

Climate scientists say atmospheric rivers like this one, which dumped a month's worth of rain on northwestern Washington and southern British Columbia in two days, will increase in intensity and frequency as the world's pollution-altered climate keeps warming.

The reservation remains closed to visitors as a Covid precaution. Greene said the tribe will likely update those restrictions by the end of December.