Thursday, May 25, 2017

Landslide on Highway 1



A swath of a hillside gave way along Highway 1 in California on Saturday, burying a section of the scenic road under 40 feet of rock and dirt.CreditJohn Madonna, via Associated Press.

The New York Times  by CHRISTOPHER MELE

Travelers in California enjoy the isolation that comes with driving along Highway 1, a serpentine route with steep cliffs known for its spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean.

That feeling of being cut off from civilization took on a different meaning on Saturday after more than 1 million tons of rock and dirt cascaded down a slope in a landslide the likes of which local officials said they had never seen before.

The slide buried about a quarter of a mile of the highway in dirt up to 40 feet deep. The road, also known as State Route 1, was shut for about 12 miles from Ragged Point to Gorda, Calif., which is about 70 miles south of Monterey.

Aerial photos show a mound of dirt shaped like a duck’s bill protruding 250 feet from the shoreline into the ocean. The hillside, with two long scrapes exposing stripes of brown, looked as if it had been clawed.

State officials do not have an estimate for when a section of Highway 1 will be opened.CreditJohn Madonna, via Associated Press.

No one was injured. The authorities said they could not estimate when the section of road would be reopened but said it would take months.

“This is by far the worst we’ve ever seen,” Susana Z. Cruz, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Transportation, said on Wednesday.

Smaller landslides had been occurring at the site since January. That section had been recently closed to the public as crews worked to stabilize the hillside, but conditions deteriorated, and the workers were pulled out last week, she said.

There are enough landslides there that locals have names for them. This one was called Arleen’s Slide, after a longtime road flagger who works in that area. 

Highway 1, which is more than 600 miles long with numerous hairpin turns, is a popular destination for tourists and sightseers.

It meanders jaggedly along the coastline in the state’s Big Sur region and provides breathtaking views. It is dotted with rustic restaurants, resorts and campsites, and in the southern portion of the area, in San Simeon, Calif., it is known for a beach where elephant seals congregate and for the opulent Hearst Castle.

Highway 1 in California near the Bixby Creek Bridge.CreditMax Whittaker for The New York Times

The landslide on Saturday in an area called Mud Creek was the latest disruption to businesses and residents along the route. A project to replace the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge farther north caused a section of Route 1 to be shut. 

To cope with that road closure, a resort, the Post Ranch Inn, has transported guests by helicopter, Stan Russell, the executive director of the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce, said on Wednesday. He said it was “business as usual” north of the bridge project, which is expected to be completed by September.

As for the landslide, he said residents and businesses were accustomed to having crews remove rocks from the road every day. “This one,” he added, “this one, people are referring to as the mother of all landslides.”

At the Ragged Point Inn and Resort in Ragged Point, Calif., reservations were down by 50 percent compared with last year, Cindy Conner, the hotel manager, said on Wednesday.

“If you look at our screen from last year, our reservations were completely filled,” she said. “And now I’m looking just at a lot of white, which means vacancies.”

The 39-room resort is open, but a barricade has been set up just beyond it, cutting off traffic that would be coming from or headed toward the area where the landslide happened. Ms. Conner said the resort is a popular wedding venue and is promoting deals for local residents.

She said guests have been disappointed to learn that they cannot head north beyond the resort.

“I’ve had people come in and say this was on their bucket list,” she said. “It’s sad.”


A rainy and snowy winter — one of the heaviest on record in California — broke the state’s five-year drought but also caused flooding and landslides.

“This type of thing may become more frequent, but Big Sur has its own unique geology,” Dan Carl, a district director for the California Coastal Commission whose area includes Big Sur, told The Associated Press. “A lot of Big Sur is moving; you just don’t see it.”

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