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Big Sur landslide on Highway 1: Satellite photos before and after

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Natural disaster along California’s coast plagues already-troubled area

As Caltrans and California figure out how much and how long it will take to clear the massive Mud Creek mudslide that befell Highway 1—early estimates have it as at least one year and roughly $1 billion, respectively—the appearance of Big Sur’s main artery, before and after, is as devastating as it is impressive.

In what has been described as the biggest recorded landslide in the state’s history, millions of tons of rock and mud rushed down the mountain, blanketing the already-troubled stretch of highway. While no one was injured during the fall, the “mother of all landslides” has since turned the tourist hotspot of Big Sur into a ghost town. Already reeling from the winter storms and subsequent damage, the tiny town saw its troubles compound tenfold after this month’s disaster.

As Eater reported prior to the landslide, “Now, with access to these and neighboring businesses cut by mudslides and a collapsed bridge following winter rains, many Big Sur restaurateurs are experiencing the type of closures or slowdowns that are becoming more common as extreme weather, aging infrastructure, and even acts of terrorism hit culinary destinations.”

Here’s what the road looked like before (on May 16) and after (May 21) rock and debris came tumbling down.

But after the May 20 mudslide hit Highway 1, the issues turned dire insofar as tourism revenue goes. Right now the only way into the hippie enclave south of Pfeiffer Canyon is by helicopter or via Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, a mountainous stretch of terrain. Wealthier visitors can opt to be helicoptered in and out.

The slide has blocked off traffic from the south into Big Sur, where traffic from the north was already impeded by the collapse of Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge in February.

According to SFist, “That bridge is expected to have a replacement later this year, possibly by late September, but meanwhile the highway in the southern section of Big Sur has multiple slide areas to contend with before it can fully reopen, the largest of which is now presenting a daunting puzzle for engineers who will have several options — some of them crazily expensive — for removing the debris and rebuilding a working road here.”

Even more worrisome is the fact that the worst of the Mud Creek slide might not be over. The LA Times reports, “Listen closely, and you’ll hear a sound of water running like rain through the rocks and dirt.” Which is to say, the slide is still moving.

Formerly a steep drop into the Pacific, the area now comprises a broad slope into the water. It measures a third of a mile wide and 40 feet at its deepest point.

A similar landslide, as KQED notes, hit “near the entrance to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in March 1983,” closing the coast highway for 13 months.