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US 6 landslide strands drivers

UDOT workers managed to clear a lane by Tuesday.

Sun Advocate reporter

A relentless downpour of rain in Spanish Fork Canyon on Labor Day caused a river of mud to descend onto U.S. Highway 6, burying the heavily-traveled road with debris and closing the highway for more than four hours.

The storm caused between three and four feet of mud to cover stretches of the four lane highway for more than a mile, said Utah Department of Transportation Region 3 Communications Manager Muriel Xochimitl. The slide began near mile marker 200 just west of the Tucker rest area at Sheep Creek, completely burying one section of road for 300 feet.

"We have never seen a slide like this in that area," said Xochimitl. "Our guys got right on it and have been working 24/7 since 8:30 p.m. on Monday."

As vehicles began to pile up on Labor Day, Utah Highway Patrol troopers began helping some drivers to get turned around and use highways 31, 89 and 191 as alternate routes. The detours provided some relief to the growing log jam but left a great many motorists stranded.

"They talked to us about taking a different route home, but I had never gone that way and with the rain, we just decided to stick it out," said Kim Ward of Price, who was traveling home from Draper with her mother and two small children. "I don't think we even had enough gas to turn around. I mean, how do you plan for something like that?"

Ward's predicament was made more difficult by the fact that her mother Brenda Lofley uses oxygen and was not carrying a spare tank.

"By the time we got home I thought I was going to die," said Lofley, who lives in Wellington. "My tank lasts for five hours, so I was out by 9 p.m. and we sitting in the same spot until after midnight."

Initially, crews were only able to open one lane of travel, forcing continued delays into Tuesday morning.

"People kept telling us to turn back, but then other drivers were talking about slides in Manti and Huntington. We had no way of really knowing what was going on or how long we were going to be there," said Lofley. "Four hours feels like forever sitting in a stationary vehicle."

According to Xochimitl, UDOT crews got the first lane cleared 12:45 a.m. Tuesday morning, and had both direction moving simultaneously at 7 a.m.

"With the amount of debris that had to be moved, I think our guys did a great job getting things moving," said Xochimitl.

Traffic began to dissipated as cars started moving more smoothly through the slide area and delays were reduced to a minimum by noon on Tuesday.

Single lane travel will continue through the end of the week, as crews are still working to clear tons of soil and debris from the highway.

The Region 3 Manager explained that UDOT is working to implement erosion control measures on the slope even as the cleanup continues.

"UDOT's goal is to open all lanes of travel as soon as possible," she said. "We are also looking for ways to make sure the roads are safe."

The transportation department will be working for the next few months to evaluate erosion issues in both Spanish Fork and Huntington canyons.

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