Scenic California Highway 1 collapse traps 1,600 after atmospheric river rain

Several resorts and state parks line the remote strech of coastal highway about 100 miles south of San Francisco.

BIG SUR, Calif. – Part of California's scenic Highway 1 crumbled into the sea below after the Easter weekend atmospheric river storm, trapping about 1,600 visitors and residents.

After heavy rain Saturday afternoon, half of the southbound lane after the Rocky Creek Bridge collapsed. According to the California Department of Transportation, crews closed both directions for 44 miles until engineers could assess the damage. That rain was preceded by 2-4 inches that fell on Friday.

The remote road along the coastal cliff has very few connecting roads for miles and miles. Any residents and visitors taking advantage of the three-day weekend were trapped.

"We are working on a plan to get motorists evacuated from the area," the California Highway Patrol said in a statement on Saturday.

One couple told KTVU FOX 2 that they were visiting from the L.A. area to camp. They drove out for a hike leaving their gear behind, but couldn't get back to it or return home for a back-to-work Monday.

"Luckily, we have flexible jobs," Ian Dibruno said. "So we let them know we had a minor emergency situation." 

"Big Sur serves a big tourist destination. There were many people who had traveled on this stretch of road south down to Big Sur. Then they had this closure, and they were just wearing that light sweater and weren't prepared in any way to return, they weren't prepared to stay the night," Kevin Drabinski of Caltrans told FOX Weather on Monday.

Caltrans opened the northbound lane on Sunday to allow officers to escort some of those stranded through the damaged area. About 300 cars were lined up for the first northbound trip, local media reported.

"(Engineering and geotech crews) did an inspection of the roadway," said a California Highway Patrol officer during a press conference. "It was very pleasant to discover that the erosion beneath the roadway had remained in place from where it  was the night before.  So it was static, and it hadn't continued to erode into the northbound lane, which was a grave concern for us."

Monday, officials started a convoy at 8 a.m., and another at 4 p.m., to lead a line of cars first northbound for an hour, then southbound. Any threat of rain leading to further damage will cancel the convoy.

Engineers will continue to monitor the stretch of roadway for the next several days during the convoys to determine the next steps. There is no estimated time for reopening the roadway. Caltrans is working on plans to temporarily stabilize the roadway to open it while a permanent structural solution is being debated.

All state parks in the area have been closed, and camping reservations have been canceled.