Landslide on California highway part of $1 billion in damage

A massive landslide that went into the Pacific Ocean is the latest natural disaster to hit a California community that relies heavily on an iconic coastal highway and tourism to survive, and it adds to a record $1 billion in highway damage from one of the state’s wettest winters in decades.

The weekend slide in Big Sur buried a portion of Highway 1 under a 40-foot layer of rock and dirt and changed the 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 a saturated slope in an area called Mud Creek. The slide is covering up about a one-quarter-of-a-mile (0.40-kilometer) stretch of Highway 1, and authorities have no estimate on when it might re-open. The area remains unstable.

“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.”

It’s the largest mudslide she knows of in the state’s history, she said. “It’s one of a kind,” Cruz said.

One of California’s rainiest and snowiest winters on record has broken a five-year drought, but also caused flooding and landslides in much of the state and sped up coastal erosion.

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

Even before the weekend slide, storms across California have caused just over $1 billion in highway damage to more than 400 sites during the fiscal year that ends in June, Mark Dinger, also a spokesman for the state transportation agency, said Tuesday. That compares with $660 million last year, he said.

Big Sur is one of the state’s biggest tourist draws in a normal year, attracting visitors to serene groves of redwoods, beaches…

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