Even mired in long-term drought and receiving only half of the normal precipitation for a typical season, a cycle of storms can cause some life-threatening situations.
On Friday, March 23, just after 1 p.m., more than six tons of rock came crashing down, covering a portion of the eastbound lane and shoulder of Highway 198 near Lake Kaweah. The slide occurred just east of Lemon Hill (Kaweah Marina). No vehicles or pedestrians were in harm’s way when the slide occurred.
There were multiple slides that occurred along the same road cut in January 2017 when the hillside became saturated during the extended weeks of above-normal precipitation. Barriers, which were just recently removed, were placed at the foot of the hillside to retain as much loose rock as possible.
During the March 23 slide, no barriers were in place where the slide occurred. There is, however, a pipeline used for drainage of the hillside.
Traffic was stopped in both directions briefly while units from Tulare County Fire and the California Highway Patrol stabilized the scene and initiated traffic control. Once Caltrans personnel arrived on the scene, a road crew was able to clear the debris from the roadway and release the first responders from the incident.
The heavy downpour that occurred Thursday evening, March 22, that precipitated the rockslide the next day was also a factor in a river incident that occurred Monday, March 26, in Sequoia National Park. The previous round of storms brought intermittent rain throughout the weekend, melting snow in the nearby mountains that caused the river to rise dramatically.
On Monday, a 40-year-old male from Minnesota ventured down to the popular river-viewing site at Hospital Rock. Rain and high water had made the rocky shoreline wet and more slippery than usual.
The man told park rangers that he lost his footing, which caused him to unintentionally enter the water. He was able to make it out of the rapids to a rock in the channel where he awaited assistance.
A swiftwater rescue task force, which included Tulare County Fire Department rescue personnel, was able to extricate the victim safely from his position on a boulder in the river channel.
All forks of the Kaweah River will be swollen with rain or snowmelt during the spring season and are ice-cold and extremely dangerous. Over the years, there have been several fatalities in the Hospital Rock area during this time of year. Everyone is advised to stay away from the water’s edge and keep a close eye on children when in the vicinity of the river.