Highway Collapse Strands 1600 in California’s Scenic Big Sur


Nestled against the scenic backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, traffic was reduced to a crawl along a picturesque section of California’s famed Highway 1 on Monday. The cause — a mammoth portion of the road, succumbing to the relentless battering of heavy weekend rains, plunged into the ocean. This unexpected turn of events had stranded as many as 1,600 people in the charming coastal hamlet of Big Sur.

At the break of dawn on Monday, the snaking convoys of distressed vehicles resumed their laborious journey along a single lane of the highway. Thankfully, most of the trapped inhabitants of Big Sur had been allowed to depart from the locality. This was made possible by the reopening of a single lane on Sunday, following an overnight closure. Kevin Drabinski, a spokesperson for the California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, provided an insight into the situation.

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“Our observers are on-site. As the caravans pass, they keep vigil, assessing the state of the road. Their job is to ensure that it is still safe for commute,” explained Drabinski.

The traumatic event happened on Saturday, in proximity to the Rocky Creek Bridge. The site, about 17 miles (27 kilometers) to the south of Monterey, soon became a bottleneck, with vehicles queueing for miles in both directions.

Kirk Gafill, who looks after the operations of Nepenthe, a restaurant in Big Sur, recounted how about a dozen of his on-duty staff members found themselves stuck in the town. They had to scurry for friends or relatives to accommodate them for the night.

“That reflects the predicament of every establishment in Big Sur,” he elaborated.

Hotel Big Sur Lodge showed their solidarity, opening their conference room to offer makeshift accommodations to those marooned. Meanwhile, others hunkered down for the overnight stay in their vehicles.

Linda Molinari, a resident of Hollister, California, shared her ordeal with Fresno’s KFSN-TV. She and her boyfriend were trapped post-lunch on their trip to Big Sur on Saturday and had no choice but to spend the night in his van.

To quote Molinari recounting the surreal experience, “It’s amazing to finally make it home, but the joy is indeed bittersweet. Our casual day out for lunch ended up costing us a memorable holiday.”

Late in the afternoon on Monday, a subsequent convoy of vehicles was guided through. Meanwhile, drivers were strongly advised to steer clear of the area. Another cycle of vehicle movement was planned for 8 a.m. on Tuesday.

Caltrans revealed its interim plans to bolster the safety of the highway. They will install concrete barriers to demarcate a safe driving lane for vehicles and also to shield the construction workers. The engineering corps will concentrate their efforts on fortifying the edge of the roadway. However, it remains ambiguous as to when the road will be ready for an unrestricted reopening.

It’s worth noting that this celebrated route has consistently experienced disruptions like landslides, mudflows, and collapses induced by extreme weather.

Thankfully, Mother Nature showed some mercy with a break in the intense rainfall that had lashed over the weekend. According to Dalton Behringer, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in the Bay Area, the next days are expected to experience dry conditions, but caution remained high with a light rain forecast for Thursday.