Mother Nature takes a dive

Campers trapped by Cove Creek landslide
By Marisa Whitaker | Apr 30, 2013
Photo by: Marisa Whitaker The landslide at Cove Creek road about a mile from the Cataloochee Valley.

A Sunday night landslide on Cove Creek Road trapped campers in the Cataloochee Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for about 12 hours.

Park spokesperson Dana Soehn said visitors with large campers were advised to not leave until the road condition was assessed. There is no cell phone service in the park and it was about 2 p.m. Monday before one lane of the road was opened.

About a mile from the park entrance, huge rocks have cascaded down the side of the road and pieces of the road are still tearing away at the edge.

Barrels block half of the already narrow dirt road, and signs caution drivers to prepare to stop for oncoming traffic. A swath of trees and vegetation was leveled in the path of the collapsing mountainside.

The unblocked portion of road is sound for road travel.

Marc Pruett, head of Haywood County Erosion Control, went to the site Monday to investigate the slide.  He said the heavy weekend rains caused the slide.

“The water table is up substantially,” Pruett said.

Water can increase the weight of the soil, and gravity can pull the soil down resulting in a landslide, he said.

Fixing the slide could take several months, said Julia Casadonte, communications officer at the N.C. Department of Transportation.

“We’re waiting on a recommendation for a fix from our geotechnical unit that should come within the next week,” she said.

A landslide affected this same area in January. At that time, the state's geotechnical unit was able to fill the slope and repair the shoulder, but this time they will be looking at different measures to prevent future slides. It is difficult to detect subsurface water flows that usually cause landslides, Casadonte said..