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Officials believe they know cause of US-441 landslide | News

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Officials believe they know cause of US-441 landslide
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Park officials now believe they know what caused the massive landslide, which took out a football field-sized portion of Newfound Gap Road (US 441) on the North Carolina side.  

Officials said they found a subsurface spring underneath the landslide site and they aren't quite sure how long its been there.  They said the spring, along with last week's massive amounts of rainfall, contributed to the landslide Wednesday morning, near mile marker 22 between Collins Creek and Webb Overlook.

"We were unaware of this subsurface spring which causes embankment failure," said Acting Deputy Superintendent Alan Sumeriski.

Approximately 90,000 cubic yards of dirt, rock and roadway crashed 45-50 feet down the side of the mountain.  Officials surveying the damage said the area is still not stable as debris continues to fall.  

Officials hope to have an estimate of how much it will cost to repair the road and a rough time frame of when construction could start by next week.

According to the park, about 6,000 people use US 441 to travel between North Carolina and Tennessee during the holidays.

"While it's a challenging project to think of repair solutions, it's not impossible," Park spokesperson Dana Soehn.

The park said it also has environmental concerns regarding the landslide.

About 9,000 truckloads of dirt and roadway fell just short of the Beech Flats Prong watershed below.  Sumeriski said the park would be setting up soil control and erosion measures Monday to stop soil from getting into the watershed.

 

Previous Story

Officials with Great Smoky Mountains National Park still don't know when Newfound Gap Road (US 441) will reopen after a huge landslide took out a football field-sized portion of roadway on the North Carolina side.

The slide happened around 9:40 am Wednesday, near mile marker 22 between Collins Creeks and Webb Overlook.

Officials say approximately 90,000 cubic yards of dirt, rock, and roadway crashed 45-50 feet down the side of the mountain.  Experts surveying the damage say the area is still not stable, and debris continues to fall.

"We just know it's going to be closed for an extended period of time,"
said Park Spokesperson Molly Schroer. "We're hoping next week when they
can bring in some more people, some geotechnical people to look at the
area."  

Park officials are continuing to look at the site to assess options for repair and is hoping to have a rough estimate of a timeframe sometime in the next week. With snow expected Thursday, the repairs could be further delayed.

For now, many drivers will have to find alternate ways to get to their destinations on the other side of the mountain.

Horace Hamilton had planned to use US-441 to get to his home in Duluth, Georgia.  Now, he has to take a 1.5 hour detour to get home.

"I've never seen anything like this," he said.

Previous story

A landslide has closed Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Park officials say the landslide undercut the road near mile marker 22 between Collins Creeks and Webb Overlook at 9:40 am.  The slide is estimated to be a 200 foot section of road extending 1000 foot down slope, but the full extent of the damage is not yet known. The closure is expected to be in effect for an extended period of time.

The park is evaluating the remainder of the roadway, but anticipates Newfound Gap Road will be opened to visitors from the Gatlinburg Entrance in Tennessee to Newfound Gap Parking lot as soon as it is possible. The road will be open to Smokemont on the North Carolina side.

Park staff are working with the Department of Federal Highway's Construction and Geotechnical Services to evaluate the slide damage and to begin planning for repairs. Additional details will be released as the condition assessments are analyzed.

The landslide could be weather related.  As of midnight, Tuesday, January 15, the park received 8.56 inches of rain at Cherokee, 7.4 inches at Newfound Gap and 6.86 inches at LeConte. Rivers and streams have been running fast and high since Sunday when the rains began. There are currently multiple temporary road closures throughout the park due to high water.

For the most current road closure reports, please call 865-436-1200 x 631 or follow SmokiesRoadsNPS on Twitter.

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