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Rock slide closes Interstate 40 in NC mountains. Here’s how long detours will remain

A rock slide closed Interstate 40 in the North Carolina mountains on Friday night, and the highway will stay shut for a week as crews stabilize the mountainside, N.C. Department of Transportation officials said.

Debris continued to fall Saturday morning as engineers surveyed the slide near Tennessee, according to NCDOT.

The slide at mile marker 7.5 closed westbound I-40 at the state line Friday night and exit 20 eastbound, officials said.

Geotechnical experts found a 500-foot wide area near Hurricane Creek must be stabilized, according to the DOT release.

Cleanup will require lane closures for up to two months after the week-long closure of the highway, highway officials said.

“For everybody’s safety — drivers, workers, contractors — we need to keep the road closed for about a week,” NCDOT Division 14 Engineer Brian Burch said in Saturday’s release. “At that point, we anticipate having enough material down the mountain that we can restore one lane of traffic in each direction.”

NCDOT awarded an emergency contract to Harrison Construction as part of another contract to improve I-40 later this spring, according to the state news release.

“Preliminary plans include removing approximately 27,000 cubic yards of dirt, rock and other debris, followed by the installation of preventative measures such as a netting or catchment fence,” according to NCDOT. “GeoTechnical experts will help develop the detailed plans.”

Drivers will be detoured on a route including I-40, I-240, I-26 and I-81 through Asheville and Johnson City, according to NCDOT.

Tennessee DOT officials said they will assist detouring traffic in the Johnson City area.

“The distance from Asheville to the I-40/I-81 junction in Tennessee is about 50 miles longer than driving through the Pigeon River Gorge,” DOT officials said in the release.

At 1:30 p.m. Saturday, NCDOT posted with photos on Facebook that the contractor had begun removing debris.

Officials have not said what they think caused the massive slide, but persistent rain in the state has caused other slides over at least a year. In the past four days, 3 to 4 inches of rain fell in areas of Haywood County near the slide, meteorologist Doug Outlaw of the National Weather Service in Greer, S.C., told The Charlotte Observer at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

”It’s still raining up there, and more rain is on the way from Tennessee today and tonight,” Outlaw said. He added that he’d just seen footage of flooding in nearby Knoxville, Tenn.

“They’ll start drying out late Sunday morning,” Outlaw said.

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Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.
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