Rock slide closes Interstate 40 in NC mountains
This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 28.
Drivers will be able to use Interstate 40 again between North Carolina and Tennessee on Thursday (Feb. 28) at 2 p.m., ending a week of 50-mile detours caused by a rock slide, says the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
NCDOT officials said in a press release that one lane will be opened going in each direction for the time being. For the latest conditions on the road, visit DriveNC.gov. Long delays are expected.
All lanes were closed Friday between Exit 20 (U.S. 276 south) and Exit 451, just past the Tennessee state line.
Motorist Justin Jones told TV station WLOS that he was there at the moment the mountainside started to fall, and it began when he saw a single falling rock in the high beams of his car. Soon after, rocks the size of basketballs began tumbling into the road, and one of Jones’ tires went flat, the station reported.
“At the time, I thought it was only one rock, but, when we pulled over, we could still hear them falling,” he was quoted saying. “That right there told me there’s something else going on.”
The rock slide is blamed on days of heavy rain that also caused flooding in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Another landslide occurred Sunday across U.S. 74, north of Sylva in Jackson County, the NCDOT reported.
Investigators with NCDOT say the rock slide on Interstate 40 occurred about 7:30 p.m. Friday, prompting engineers to declare the road unsafe in both directions. Some of the rocks were the size of a wheelbarrow, said an NCDOT news release.
“An estimated ... two dump truck loads of rocks fell from atop the slope and bounced into the westbound lanes,” said the NCDOT release. “Later in the evening, smaller rocks ricocheted over the median, necessitating the closure of eastbound lanes.”
Debris was still falling over the weekend, said NCDOT. In all, about 27,000 cubic yards of dirt, rock and trees must be carted off before the interstate can reopen, officials said.