Kentucky

Sandstone boulders slide into creek, closing Lee County road

Kevin McIntosh, left, Mike Brandenburg, center, and Dale Deaton of the Kentucky Department of Highways look at the house-sized sandstone boulders that cleaved from a hillside cliff near Beattyville. The slide happened Sunday but this photo was taken on Monday, Jan. 31, 2011. Photo by Greg Kocher
| Staff
gkocher1@herald-leader.com
Kevin McIntosh, left, Mike Brandenburg, center, and Dale Deaton of the Kentucky Department of Highways look at the house-sized sandstone boulders that cleaved from a hillside cliff near Beattyville. The slide happened Sunday but this photo was taken on Monday, Jan. 31, 2011. Photo by Greg Kocher | Staff gkocher1@herald-leader.com Greg Kocher | Staff

BEATTYVILLE — A state highway remained closed Monday and traffic was rerouted after a weekend rock slide below the road had authorities questioning its stability.

The slide, which happened about 9:30 a.m. Sunday, caused sandstone boulders, each as big as a house, to cleave from the side of a cliff and tumble into Silver Creek in the Beattyville city limits.

Trees and the creek bed prevented the boulders from crashing into a mobile home and other buildings along Wade Road, said Eugene Barrett, emergency management director for Lee County.

No one was seriously hurt, but part of a tree crashed through the roof of the mobile home where Jordan Wade lived. About six people were evacuated, Barrett said.

Jordan's father, Clayton Wade, said the rumble of the slide "sounded like a low-flying jet. I thought it was an earthquake. It was a rude awakening."

Ky. 1144, which is above the slide, was closed, and traffic headed to the county's high school; middle school; vocational school; Three Forks Regional Jail; and Lee Adjustment Center, a private prison, was rerouted, said H.B. Elkins, public information officer for the state Department of Highways office in Jackson.

"They did report that a crack showed up in the pavement overnight" on Ky. 1144, Elkins said. "The reason we have it closed is as a precaution until we can get some technicians to come in and see if ground or rocks are still moving" underneath the road.

The geotech specialists might have to do some core drilling to see what's going on beneath the road, Elkins said.

The freezing and thawing of recent days might have worked the rocks loose and caused the slip, Elkins said. There also are old underground coal mines from the early 20th century in the hillside.

"I'm 49 and I grew up in Beattyville, and they were not worked in my lifetime," Elkins said of the mines.

Lee County Judge-Executive Steve Mays said he had never seen a rock slide as big as this one. "I talked to a couple of contractors, and they said that's about as big as they have ever seen. It was lucky that the creek caught those rocks because if they had rolled, it would have crushed the people inside" the nearby mobile homes, Mays said.

City and county workers rerouted Silver Creek around the boulders Sunday night, Barrett said. The boulders will remain along Silver Creek for the moment, Mays said.

"If you try to blast those things, you could cause more of the hill to come off," he said.

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