Landslide buries California’s scenic highway in Big Sur

CALIFORNIA – A monster of a landslide has buried a quarter-mile section of the scenic coastal highway in California’s Big Sur region, piling fresh misery on a remote area that hasn’t seen the road fully passable for months.

More than 1 million tons of rock and dirt fell Saturday onto the Pacific Coast Highway, considered by some to be one of the most scenic drives in the United States. The section is 1 mile southeast of the small community of Gorda, about 60 miles south of Monterey.

The landslide covered the road, also known as State Route 1, in a 35-40 feet deep layer of dirt for about 1,500 feet. The highway is the main artery running through Big Sur, a picturesque stretch that is a major tourist attraction.

The highway already was closed at that spot — almost continuously since January — and at a few other points along the dozens of miles of coast because of landslides caused by unusually heavy winter and spring rains.

But Saturday’s slide was the largest by far, and authorities said they don’t know when it can be cleared.

“Whether that roadway is even there (anymore) will be interesting to see, once it’s uncovered,” Caltrans spokesman Jim Shivers said.

No injuries or damage were reported, officials said.

Several long-term closures

Before this year, the area’s few residents and business owners were used to small slides that crews generally cleaned up in a few hours.

But heavy rains since January have caused several long closures. One landslide forced officials to demolish the highway’s Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, some 30 miles northwest of Mud Creek. A new bridge might not be finished until September, Shivers said.

Workers trying to repair damage from a different slide, between Pfeiffer Canyon and Mud Creek, stop work three times a day to allow locals to pass through. But those wanting to get farther north or south would have to take an interior county road to U.S. 101, some 40 miles inland.

“This has been a different year for us,” Shivers said.

Before this landslide at Mud Creek, repairs from the earlier slide were suspended and heavy equipment was ordered removed from the road because officials suspected another was coming.

“I don’t think they anticipated anything of this magnitude,” Shivers said.