published Sunday, January 29th, 2012

Rock slide keeping Signal Mountain's W Road blocked at least until Wednesday


by Chris Carroll
Several large boulders block the W Road after a rockslide.
Several large boulders block the W Road after a rockslide.
Photo by Jake Daniels.

A muddy avalanche shut down Signal Mountain's W Road on Saturday, blocking one of the mountain's main thoroughfares.

The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office first announced a rock slide Friday at 8:40 p.m. There were no injuries and no workers cleaning up the mess as late as Saturday evening.

Dynamite has been ruled out.

"We're afraid if we blast, it'll shake the rest of the rocks up there," said Harold Austin, director of the Hamilton County Highway Department. "If we find the right piece of equipment, we'll get started Monday."

Officials expect to reopen the W Road by Wednesday or Thursday.

That wasn't very comforting for Doug and Scott Ruth, brothers and lifelong Signal Mountain residents who use the W Road to access the rest of the world.

"When this road is closed, the front of the mountain is a hassle," said Doug Ruth, a 37-year-old software designer. "At least double the traffic."

The Ruth brothers trekked about 15 minutes from East Brow Road to explore the debris. They stood in awe, gawking as overturned boulders, tree branches and street signs gave the mountain a post-apocalyptic feel. Streams seemed louder, and the nearest car rumbled a long way away.

"It certainly indicates that it's not stable here," said Scott Ruth, a 46-year-old health care executive.

Officials credited a rainy January as the main force behind the splatter. Austin said it was the largest rockslide he'd ever seen on the W Road, a prime place for downed trees and errant stones.

Nature's latest local curveball occurred about 21/2 miles up the mountain. It created minor havoc Saturday at the Mountain Creek Road roundabout, where at least one driver stopped within inches of a "Road Closed" sign, awkwardly reversed and changed course.

The highway department likely will use an excavator and hydraulic hammer to break up the largest pieces before dumping them over the side of the mountain or hauling them elsewhere.

Austin said his workers would assess whether "anything else looks like it's coming off" the mountain anytime soon.

"We'll get it if we can," he said.

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