Massive slide buries stretch of iconic California highway

BIG SUR, Calif. (AP) — A massive landslide along an iconic coastal highway in California has buried the road under a 40-foot layer of rock and dirt, the latest hit after a winter of crippling slides and flooding.

A swath of the hillside gave way in an area called Mud Creek on Saturday night, changing the Big Sur coastline below to include what now looks like a rounded skirt hem, Susana Cruz, a spokeswoman with the California Department of Transportation, said Tuesday.

More than 1 million tons of rock and dirt tumbled down the slope, which remained unstable. The slide is covering up about one-quarter of a mile of Highway 1.

“We haven’t been able to go up there and assess. It’s still moving,” Cruz said. “We have geologists and engineers who are going to check it out this week to see how do we pick up the pieces.”

The state already had closed that part of Highway 1 to repair buckled pavement and remove debris after an earlier slide triggered by one of California’s rainiest winters in decades.

Authorities removed work crews from the area last week after realizing that saturated soil in that area was increasingly unstable, Cruz said.

Narrow, windy Highway 1 through Big Sur is a major tourist draw, attracting visitors to serene groves of redwoods, beaches and the highway’s dramatic oceanside scenery between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The rough winter has closed at least two other stretches of road in the area, forcing some resorts to shut down and others to use helicopters to ferry in supplies and guests.

Kirk Gafill, president of the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce and owner of the historic Nepenthe Restaurant, said people who make a living in the area have to contend with Mother Nature more so than global economic cycles.

“In our way of thinking and our way of planning, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” he said. “You just hope they’re dispersed far enough over the years so you can replenish your cash reserves.”

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