Mudslides force more than 100 to spend night on I-70 in Colorado

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FILE – Int his Thursday, July 22, 2021, file photo, Colorado Department of Transportation crews work to clear mud and debris from the eastbound deck of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon, Colo., near Bair Ranch after a flash flood. Authorities say about 20 people spent the night inside a highway tunnel along I-70 in Glenwood Canyon after rain over an area burned by a wildfire once again triggered mudslides in Western Colorado. The people were caught in their vehicles Thursday night, July 29, 2021 and it took crews nine hours to carve out a path through the mud to reach them about 6:30 a.m. Friday. (Chelsea Self/Glenwood Springs Post Independent via AP, File)

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. — More than 100 people had to spend the night on a highway, including nearly 30 who took refuge in a tunnel, after rain over an area burned by a wildfire once again triggered mudslides in western Colorado, authorities said Friday.

The people were caught with their vehicles on Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon on Thursday night. Those in the tunnel were stuck for about nine hours until crews could carve out a path through the mud to reach them about 6:30 a.m. Friday, Garfield County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Walt Stowe said.

The tunnel serves as a 24-hour operations center for the Colorado Department of Transportation, so it is relatively well-lit and has telephones, Stowe said. No injuries were reported.

The transportation department has accounted for 108 people, including 29 in the tunnel, who were stuck on the highway overnight.

Glenwood Canyon has cliffs towering up to 2,000 feet (610 meters) above the Colorado River, making it prone to rockslides and mudslides. In recent weeks, rain over the area burned by a wildfire last summer has triggered frequent slides, resulting in closures of I-70, Colorado’s main east-west highway. Those closures have mostly occurred before the storm moves in, to prevent people from being trapped.

On Thursday, the canyon had temporarily closed earlier in the day as one storm cell approached but had reopened by the time a second storm cell moved in, which led to the vehicles and their passengers getting trapped, Stowe said.

Transportation officials say the section of interstate is expected to be closed through the weekend because of the significant cleanup underway and because of heavy rain in the forecast.

“Because the National Weather Service has placed this area back under a Flash Flood Watch, there is a limited window of time to move all abandoned vehicles to safety,” the transportation department said in a news release.

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