Mudslide that Buried California Highway May Take Days to Clean Up


A section of Southern California found itself waist-deep in mud as the weekend arrived, and a highway overtaken by flowing debris looked like a buried junkyard of hundreds of cars that would likely take days to dig up.

The worst of the thunderstorms had passed, but the continued chance of rain could dampen cleanup and relief efforts in northern Los Angeles County’s Antelope Valley, where the most serious mudslides occurred.

On Friday, rescuers and those stranded in the highway debris flow described a chaotic scene that somehow left no reported injuries or deaths.

“It was terrifying,” 51-year-old Rhonda Flores of Bakersfield told The Associated Press. “It was a raging river of mud. I’ve never experienced anything like it, ever.”

Rescuers threw ladders and tarps across mud up to 6 feet deep to help the hundreds of trapped people from cars that got caught in the roiling river of mud along State Route 58 about 30 miles east of Bakersfield, a major trucking route, California Highway Patrol officials said.

They were rescued in darkness about 10 hours after the storm hit and taken to three shelters.

Flores said she, her mother and her stepfather were driving back to Bakersfield from her sister’s funeral in Utah when the storm hit out of nowhere.

Trucker John Tate told CBS News correspondent Carter Evans the cars around him were no match for the mud.

“I watched the cars float by,” Tate told Evans. “All them cars … they were back there, and then they all floated by.”

Trucker Bill Nissen told Evans, “One lady was like she was driving down a lake, like she was steering a boat down a lake.”

Sgt. Mario Lopez, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol, was at the scene as people were being rescued and said it was sheer chaos.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Lopez said. “The whole side of the hill just came down onto State Route 58 … There’s no highway.”

The storms unleashed flash flooding and debris flows along the 58, Interstate 5 and in two small mountainside communities, where at least a dozen homes were reported damaged.

Lopez said it will take days to reopen State Route 58, a mile of which is choked with mud between 2 and 6 feet deep. About 200 cars and semi-trucks were trapped in the now-hardened mud, frozen in place at odd angles.

Emergency crews were working to dig out head-high mounds of mud from the 58 and 5, which was also shut down as hundreds of cars were trapped in the mud Thursday. All lanes were reopened by Friday night.

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