The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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December 29, 2013

Massive rock slide blocks travelers

Traffic in western Raleigh County rerouted; responders develop emergency plan

— A massive rock slide that pulverized and covered a large portion of W.Va. 3 in western Raleigh County caused a scramble Friday evening as state and Department of Transportation representatives worked to formulate an emergency operations plan and strategy for clearing the blockage.

Three gigantic boulders — one estimated to tip the scales at approximately 3,000 pounds — broke loose from the mountainside and crashed across Coal River Road between Sundial and Pettry Bottom just before 5 p.m. Friday.

The road was closed and traffic has been forced to travel an alternate route across Clear Creek Crossing in order to reach Whitesville, emergency responders explained. Depending on travelers’ destinations, their travel time will be increased at least 15 to 20 minutes by the detour and drivers should plan accordingly.

Division of Highways workers on the scene Saturday morning said engineers were traveling to the area that afternoon to complete an assessment of the damage.

Area residents and DOH workers on the scene said the slide was most likely caused by water running behind the boulders and expanding upon freezing, thereby pushing the overhanging rocks outward and forcing them to break off above the road.

 Sen. Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming, said the Department of Transportation originally issued a statement to the Governor’s Office in which officials estimated that road would be closed for the next four days.

However, Hall believes that the slide may be “worse than they initially thought,” and that cleanup may take longer.

According to David Hodges, Whitesville Fire Department assistant fire chief, an emergency plan was developed within minutes after the slide.

“We have made plans,” Hodges said. “No one will go without aid.”

With Coal River Volunteer Fire Department no longer being available to assist the Whitesville Fire Department in case of an emergency, Boone County’s Racine Volunteer Fire Department has stepped up to pick up the slack, Hodges explained.

Also, Boone County Ambulance Authority stated it will increase its coverage on the western/Whitesville side of the slide from Sundial to the Boone County line, and a Jan-Care representative said that they will ensure a unit will be available on the eastern/Glen Daniel side.

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This is the second major rock slide on W.Va. 3 in the last few years, so concern has been raised in the community regarding the route’s safety.

Hodges said it was only a few years ago when Division of Highways crews excavated a large portion of the mountain in an attempt to prevent the occurrence of future rock slides.

With several miles of highway where rock face hangs imminently overhead, Hall said it’s “amazing that there haven’t been more incidents in the past.”

“No one really thinks anything until something happens,” Hall said. “I’ve already been getting calls and e-mails from people asking me what’s going to be done.”

Hall explained that, aside from being frequented by local residents, the road is heavily traveled by coal trucks and those associated with the coal industry.

The Register-Herald was unable to make contact Saturday with any Department of Transportation officials for comment. More information on the rock slide and the cleanup efforts will be reported as it becomes available.

— E-mail: bunderwood@register-herald.com

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