Drilling and blasting work began Sunday morning in an effort to break up three enormous sandstone masses that currently obstruct both lanes of W.Va. 3 near Sundial.
The rocks broke loose from the mountainside and crashed across Coal River Road between Sundial and Pettry Bottom just before 5 p.m. Friday.
Division of Highways assistant district engineer Alan Reed said that their primary concern right now is just moving the massive rocks from the roadway.
“We’re going to blast it and haul it out of here,” Reed said. “That’s the first step.”
Beckley-area highway contractor Vecellio and Grogan has been contracted by DOH to spearhead the project and Beckley Drilling and Blasting was subcontracted to coordinate the blasting work.
“They were nearest to us and could mobilize quickly,” Reed explained.
The first blast rumbled through the vicinity just before noon Sunday, after which a portion of the largest rock fell into the river below.
“It’s already a lot smaller now than it was,” said Reed.
As far as an estimation for when the road will be back in working order, Reed said it’s touch and go at this point.
“It depends on however long it takes us to blast this rock out,” he said. “It’s hard to make that prediction. We’ve been saying hopefully by the end of the week.”
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W.Va. 3 resident Donna Hayes lives in a home just a stone’s throw down the way from the slide and was on the site Sunday taking pictures to share with family members out of state.
“We told them two years ago to fix that (rock) and they didn’t,” said Hayes.
She said she and her sister-in-law knew that the rocks were going to crash down sooner or later, and raised the issue to the DOH after the last rock slide a few years back.
“If they don’t do something to the rock around the bend (near Pettry Bottom), that’s going to be next,” she added.
Hayes heard the boom of Friday’s rock slide while she was watching TV. After walking outside, she said she couldn’t believe her eyes.
“I had family and friends that had just driven underneath (the rock) before the fall,” Hayes said. “It’s very scary.”
Lifetime Naoma resident Johnny Boggess said Friday’s rock slide is the worst slide he’s ever seen on W.Va. 3, and he’s seen more than a handful.
“I’ve watched those rocks for years and wondered what kept them up there,” said Boggess. “Especially that one. That was a monster. I wasn’t surprised at all it came down.”
Boggess said his wife works in Charleston, and having to detour to W.Va. 1 tacks on at least an hour to her daily work commute.
“I hope they get it (fixed) so that nobody gets killed,” Boggess said.
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To assess the mountainside’s stability, the Division of Highways will be building a road to the top of the mountain along a ridge in order to take equipment up for drilling and excavating.
“We’re going to be building a little temporary road just for our equipment so we can do some stabilization work up top,” explained Jimmy Wriston, senior engineering adviser for Secretary of Transportation Paul Mattox.
“We’re looking at what we’re going to do about preventing this from occurring again,” Wriston said.
Wriston said he and Reed will be consulting with geotechnical engineers from the DOH Engineering Division in the next day or two in order to make a plan of action regarding the remainder of the mountainside.
“We’ll come to a conclusion on what exactly we need, how far we need to go, what needs to come off (of the mountain) and what we think can stay,” Wriston said.
He said crews are currently only able to work during the daylight hours due to the nature of the drilling and blasting efforts, but night shifts may be implemented when cleanup and hauling efforts begin.
With school resuming on Thursday there is currently no official word on a bus plan for students residing on the western/Whitesville side of the rock slide, but that information will be reported as it becomes available.
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