Sliding Into Disaster


The Big Sur Landslide, Photo Courtesy of SFGate

Janet Han, Photojournalist

After five years of a seemingly endless drought, Southern California recently received heavy rainfall that, while widely welcomed, also greatly destroyed some of the region’s unprepared infrastructure. One prime example of such a disaster is in the Big Sur landslide, a massive landslide that has managed to completely bury a large portion of the Pacific Coast Highway.

Twelve miles of the highway has been covered by 40 feet of mud, rocks, and other debris. So far, there is no estimate to how expensive clearing the area will be, but it may take well over a year. Sarah Chen (9) described the landslide as being “unbelievably massive” and mentioned that “it seems like trying to clear everything away will take a lot of work.”

Transportation has been greatly affected by the damage, particularly between Big Sur, where the landslide took place, and Gorda, a nearby city. A trip that was previously a quick forty minute drive next to the ocean has become a long, tedious trip of over four hours. The landslide is reported to have been so big, it is actually visible from space. Pictures taken by NASA have proven just how catastrophically large the disaster was. Meanwhile, satellite images have surfaced that provide before and after pictures of the area.

Experts report that the event was indeed the result of such heavy rainfall, as the unexpected rain that assaulted the previously dry land caused it to erode quickly. Signs pointing to the landslide luckily meant that no one was in the area, as the already unstable land had caused a previous, smaller landslide. The highway was closed due to the first disaster, but the continuously crumbling land lead to repair crews deciding not to continue their repairs for the time being. This foresight is probably what has kept the event from resulting in any deaths.

But in terms of damage caused by the sudden rainfall this year, this recent landslide is only the tip of the iceberg. Over $1 billion dollars worth of damage to highways has resulted from the weather and climate change, and even more to other forms of infrastructure.
However, NPR makes light of the situation in Big Sur, saying that “one big slide took out all those smaller slides.” And that ‘with all the excess material out of the way, now maybe stability for that area may be restored.” Overall, while the heavy rainfall in Southern California this year left many hopeful and excited for the drought to be over, it has also clearly had some negative consequences.