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Northern California highway crumbles as storm-soaked hillside collapses

Days of rain caused a hillside to collapse and part of a state highway through Trinity County to crumble and wash away this week, cutting off a main pass for locals, Caltrans officials said.

A stretch of pavement several car-lengths long was washed away on California 3 north of Weaverville along with the hillside that supported it between Monday night and Tuesday morning, photos posted on Caltrans' Facebook page showed. The area, along with most of the northern portion of California, has been soaked by a series of storms since the beginning of the month.

Trinity Center has received about 5½ inches of rain in the last week, National Weather Service meteorologist Kathleen Lewis said. She said the highway collapse cut off a main thoroughfare for locals on the edge of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

Caltrans said that contractors would survey the damage Wednesday and that some traffic could resume on the road within eight weeks. Full repairs could take two to three months, the agency said.

“This isn’t completely unheard of,” Lewis said. “When we see heavy rains, we always see heavy slides around here. Especially because the terrain is steep.”

Farther south, California 36 east of Forest Glen was closed because of a mud and rock slide, Caltrans said.

Along the state's northern coast, it seems as if it has never stopped raining, Lewis said, pointing out that on only three days this month — March 3, 7 and 15 — has it not rained in Eureka.

The coastal rains have wreaked their own havoc. On Friday, Caltrans posted a photo of a mudslide on Highway 1 in Mendocino County that almost tipped a Caltrans dump truck over a cliff.

While causing some dangerous conditions, the storms are also filling some of California’s reservoirs to levels not seen in years.

Together, the Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville reservoirs have a capacity of more than 8 million acre-feet of water. After last weekend, Lake Shasta was above its historical average for this time of year, and by 4 p.m. Monday, Lake Oroville had surpassed its historical average, said state Department of Water Resources spokesman Doug Carlson.

The rising reservoirs, along with growing snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, are important because both are key sources of water for California. The snowpack now stands at 92% of normal statewide, with the northern area now at 102% of normal.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.

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