Big Sur Urged to Evacuate as Another Storm Approaches

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California officials temporarily shut down part of Highway 1 on Wednesday and warned residents to evacuate one of the nation’s most scenic coastal stretches as an incoming bout of spring rain threatened to worsen a road collapse near Big Sur.

The emergency orders, issued by the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office and the California Department of Transportation, came as the state and local authorities scrambled to rebound from a landslide last weekend in which a sizable portion of Highway 1 crumbled after a day of heavy rainfall.

The so-called slip-out, which stranded more than a thousand motorists overnight along the famous state highway, was the product of winter storms that for months have saturated California. The collapse sent massive chunks of pavement tumbling into the Pacific Ocean north of Big Sur and narrowed nearly two miles of road to a single lane.

For the last several days, state transportation officials have urged motorists to avoid the area and have gingerly shepherded local and emergency traffic around the missing section of highway. Jim Shivers, a spokesman for the state transportation agency, known as Caltrans, said the twice-daily convoys had accommodated an average of about 150 vehicles in each direction per day.

But with rain expected to return on Thursday and Friday, Caltrans canceled the convoys through Friday.

“They only expect about half an inch, but we don’t want to take any chances,” Mr. Shivers said. “It’s the end of a wet rainy season, so any additional moisture has the potential for additional landslide or mudslide activity.”

That move prompted the local authorities to urge the roughly 2,000 people who live in the Big Sur area year-round to leave before the rain hit, particularly if they had medical needs.

Big Sur, loosely defined, is a 70-mile stretch of the Central Coast about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles that is famed both for its spectacular beauty and for its vulnerability. Teetering at the edge of the continent, it has been increasingly besieged by climate-driven disasters from wildfires to landslides, and its main artery is Highway 1, which hugs the coast precariously.

When the highway is blocked, residents often live for long periods in relative isolation; the highway closed for months after a massive 2017 landslide, and sections are still undergoing repairs from an onslaught of atmospheric rivers last year.

On Wednesday, residents and businesses prepared to be marooned again.

“We are hearty people,” said Colin Twohig, general manager of the Big Sur River Inn, which is south of the current road closure and “smack dab in the middle” of the area under the evacuation warning. “Folks have had the opportunity all week to get supplies and stock up, and pretty much everybody I’ve spoken to is ready to hunker down for some quiet time.”

That said, he noted, the past week has posed a significant economic disruption. He and the managing partner of the 22-room inn, Ben Perlmutter, said they had spent the past several days hastily revising their website to facilitate general store sales and hosting community dinners to keep spirits up and avoid wasting perishables that they had stocked for Easter weekend.

On Wednesday, they were canceling reservations and hoping their prospects would improve by the weekend.

“We’re one of the few family-owned businesses left in Big Sur,” said Mr. Perlmutter, who added that his father, 91, a general partner, had decamped to a hotel in Monterey on Sunday for health reasons. “I don’t say this for pity, but if the road doesn’t open, it’s unlikely this will be a family business six months from now.”


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