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article imageMassive mudslide on Calif. coastal highway closes it indefinitely

By Karen Graham     May 24, 2017 in Environment
Big Sur - A portion of California's Pacific Coast Highway was blocked over the weekend by a massive mudslide that buried a part of Highway 1 under a 40-foot layer of rock and dirt and cut off access to a region that depends heavily on tourism to survive.
One of California's rainiest and snowiest winter's on record may have finally broken the devastating drought that had gripped the state for the last five years, but the damage caused by floods and landslides has taken its toll as the erosion of the state's coastline accelerates.
The weekend slide buried a quarter-mile-wide portion of the coastal highway under more than a million tons of rock and dirt, and according to Susana Cruz, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Transportation changed the coastline below so that it now looks like "rounded skirt hem," reports CBS News on Tuesday.
#mudslide - Twitter
The highway is the main artery that runs through Big Sur, an iconic and scenic attraction known for its rugged coastlines and mountain views. While having no specific boundaries, Big Sur includes the 76 miles (122 kilometers) segment of California State Route 1 from the Carmel River south to San CarpĆ³foro Creek near San Simeon and the entire Santa Lucia Mountain range between the rivers.
All access to the highway remains closed because the mass of rocks and dirt is still unstable and according to authorities, there is no word on when it will be reopened, reports WTVR Richmond.
"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."
#mudslide - Twitter
Landslides along California's coastline have become more frequent as climate change has accelerated the rise in sea levels and increase in high tides. Dan Carl, a district director for the California Coastal Commission whose area includes Big Sur, says, "This type of thing may become more frequent, but Big Sur has its own unique geology. A lot of Big Sur is moving; you just don't see it."
However, according to Mark Dinger, also a spokesman for the state transportation agency, even before this past weekend's huge landslide, winter storms had already caused more than $1.0 billion in highway damage to more than 400 sites through the fiscal year that ends in June, and that is just the estimate for one part of the state's infrastructure. Compare this year to last fiscal year's $660 million.
More about Landslide, Pacific coast highway, California, winter weather, geology of area