UPDATE: One lane of U.S. 64 now open as TDOT cleans rock slide
UPDATE: One lane U.S. 64 near mile marker 11 is now open to through traffic as TDOT crews continue to clean up the mess from Thursday's rockslide.
Rafting on the Ocoee should resume soon as well.
TDOT Spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said it's working with state parks and other agencies to resume rafting on the Ocoee River.
TDOT closed 21 miles of the highway to divert traffic but said it hoped to open one lane Friday.
"If the containment area behind the rock fall fence is cleaned up to our satisfaction, we are planning on possibly allowing one lane of traffic through the slide area by mid-morning," Flynn said. "Drivers will be protected by the containment area, the rock fall fence, and by a row of dump trucks parked along the fence to divert any material that might possibly come over the fence."
The cleanup will continue throughout the Labor Day weekend.
"We have a greater amount of material moving at the top of the slope than what we feel comfortable with," said Ken Flynn of TDOT.
Tennessee Department of Transportation Regional Director Ken Flynn is careful to keep his crews safe from the falling rocks.
"The way it's configured right now I can't get anyone underneath there because the rocks can come down and I never know when they're going to come," he said. "The things I'm scared about are up on the slope and it takes a really specialized person to get up there and work on it."
About 200 feet up the slope, rocks and debris break free and fall to the roadside hours after Wednesday night's big slide.
This is the same area where the TDOT installed a rock fall fence following a rock slide in January 2010.
TDOT says the fence held back most of the material, but the catchments area is full and in danger of overflowing the fence. The roadway is closed to traffic until further notice.
"This is the third time it's caught a really good size flow. There's a lot of rock and force behind that," Flynn said.
This is the third rock slide on the same slope this week. Two small slides on Monday and Wednesday afternoons were quickly cleared. Nothing as big as Wednesday's slide.
"We've had this problem before here and unfortunately this road is known for those types of problems," Flynn said.
OUTFITTERS IMPACTED BY SLIDE
The impact this latest development may have on a typically busy holiday weekend has yet to be determined.
"This is a bad time for this to happen. I know that. But mother nature doesn't care," Flynn said.
Carlo Smith of Adventures Unlimited said Labor Day weekend is huge for his business.
"It just shows we're operating in a natural environment and there's things that can happen that are beyond our control," Smith said.
Wednesday's rock slide keeps Smith from making money and keeps visitors off the river.
"The rock slide is between us and the put-in in the river so we can't physically get up to the river right now," Smith said.
"Hopefully they get it cleaned up and we'll be ready to rock n roll for the weekend," Smith said.
Adventures Unlimited is hosting the two-day "Ocoee Fest" with live music this Saturday and Sunday. And Smith doesn't want the rock slide scaring folks away.
TDOT is asking all drivers to use alternate routes.
For those traveling East on U.S. 64, take U.S. 411 in Ocoee, take a right on SR-68 in Madisonville, the back to U.S. 64 in Ducktown.
For those traveling West on U.S. 64, take SR-68 in Ducktown to U.S. 411 in Madisonville, then back to U.S. 64 in Ocoee. The detour route is approximately 81 miles long, but the roads are 4-lane most of the way.
Stay with WRCB and WRCBtv.com for updates.