Seven families in a cluster of hillside homes above the Tillamook River spent the past week watching the two roads they live on slip, buckle and tangle into a slide of rocks, mud and trees.

It began Monday as a few little cracks on Burton Hill Road, just outside Tillamook. By Wednesday the cracks had collapsed into a quarter-mile series of sinkholes and creeping mud that put three homes at risk, pushed a barn off its foundation and left homeowners fearful of what will move next.

As the rains continue, they say only one thing is clear: No one is coming to the rescue.
Oregon neighborhood
© The Oregonian
Oregon neighborhood
© Oregonian
Morgan Kottre, 27, said she and her neighbors - some of them relatives - have been told by county, state and federal officials that they don't qualify for assistance because Burton Hill Road and the lower Hillside Drive are private roads on private land. Same story from at least one insurance company. Kottre said a representative told one family the devastation qualifies as an "act of god," which the insurer doesn't cover.

"In theory, we could try to fight it," she said, "but right now we're just trying to fight the land." Storms over the past week that have brought flooding and landslides across northwestern Oregon. On Saturday afternoon, blizzard conditions closed three highways in Southern Oregon. The extreme weather has caused at least two deaths in Oregon and federal officials set early damage estimates at about $15 million.

Tillamook County was among the 13 counties where Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency. In fact, not far from Kottre's home on Saturday night, the town of Oceanside was cut off as the only road out of town was closed due to a failed culvert.
Oregon road
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Oregon neighborhood road buckle
© Oregonian
Kottre, her neighbors and 50 friends spent Saturday night stacking more than 200 sandbags on tarps in hopes of keeping water from further soaking the ground. They teamed up to build a gravel road through one backyard so folks on the upper road could get out.

"It just seemed crazy when the land dropped a few inches," Kottre said of the hillside community. "But it became terrifying when it was three feet." Kottre and her husband, who live on the upper road, are staying at home for now. The same is true for their older next-door neighbors, whose sliding-glass door is a stone's throw from one of the steeper drop-offs.

Down below, on Hillside Drive, Tera Kottre and her family moved out and are living in their horse trailer. If feels safer, she says, than being in the house that's in front of the barn that's slowly being moved by mud. Tera Kottre first heard of the issue Monday as she ate breakfast with her husband, John. "My mother-in-law called and said, 'Do you know your neighbors' driveway is starting to move?'" she said. They went out, looked up and saw the driveway sinking away from the home and visibly pushing chunks of earth in their direction.
Oregon hill slide
© Oregonian
Oregon neighborhood
© Oregonian
"We saw it and knew immediately it was going to hit our barn and we just started moving," said Tera Kottre, who evacuated her three horses and moved everything of sentimental value out of the house. She and her husband have been back to the home, she says, but she won't sleep there. The geologists and engineers who've visited said that's wise.

Tera Kottre hasn't had a chance to call her insurance company, she added. She'll fit that in on Monday, she says, during her split shift at work. Neighbors said the settlement began as a dairy farm in the 1940s and later on, was one long driveway to a home. That homeowner began parceling off the land and now seven homes are scattered across the hill surrounded by pastures and forest.

Morgan Kottre said she and her husband hadn't realized it was a private drive - or the implications of that - when they bought their home about two years ago. She's started a account to help cover the costs but says the project likely will exceed the $100,000 fundraising goal.

It's hard to know what the cost will be until the extent of the destruction is clear. But, experts have told residents, a thorough survey won't be possible until the earth stops moving.

And that might not happen until the rains clear.Saturday was supposed to bring heavy rains and 50-mile-per-hour winds. The storm skewed south, yet rains are predicted through early next week.

Worst-case, the neighbors say, chunks of earth and road will topple the barn, send mud through two homes and over their driveways, and leave another home too near a sinkhole to be safe.

Still, Morgan Kottre said she's found strength in how her neighborhood has come together. But she's been frustrated by what some people have written online when they hear of weather-related disasters on the Oregon Coast.

She read a comment somewhere to the effect "those Californians shouldn't have built their homes on sand." But her neighborhood is nowhere near sand, she says, and the people who live on what they call "Family Hill" have spent most of their lives in the town.

"They think we're in some big house on the sand with beachfront views," she said. "We're not. We're blue collar workers who live on a hill because that's what there is in Tillamook. Lots of hills."