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Highway stays closed after second slide

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KEREMEOS - A second rock slide in two days halted efforts to reopen Highway 3 west of Keremeos on Tuesday.
The slide, considerably smaller than the slide that
occurred Monday, was still large enough to convince Ministry of Transportation officials to withdraw work crews which had begun clearing tonnes of boulders and debris from the roadway.
No one was hurt in Tuesday's slide, unlike Monday when one woman was taken to hospital after three
vehicles were caught up in the original slide.
Some boulders as large as a truck cascaded across the highway, about nine kilometres west of Keremeos.
The route will remain closed until after a rock-scaling team, scheduled to start working today, reduces the threat of more slides.
Mike Lorimer, the ministry's regional director, said it had been hoped one or two lanes of the four-lane section could have been cleared on Tuesday.
"We had hoped to get a couple of lanes through by late (Tuesday) afternoon," he said. "We were hoping to clear the outside lane and obviously get traffic moving through there."
However, those plans were put on hold when the
second slide, involving some 20 cubic metres of rock and debris, occurred early Tuesday afternoon.
"It just got us a little more concerned about the stability (of the rock face), so we decided to back the crews out of there for safety sake and monitor it through the day," he said.
Lorimer said the ministry plans to have a rock-scaling crew on ropes work on the cliff face first thing this morning before resuming the clean-up. Plans called for a small berm to be constructed from some of the debris to protect traffic on the re-opened lanes.
"That's what they would have been in the middle of working on (Tuesday) when there were some preliminary indications - a few smaller rocks started
moving - so that's when they evacuated the site and then the bigger rockfall came down."
An aerial inspection of the rock face suggested some scaling work was required.
"We won't go all the way across the mountainside. We'll focus on the area where the rock released from," he said.
Lorimer could provide no update on the condition of the woman injured Monday, but acknowledged it must have been a frightening experience to be driving as the rocks came tumbling down.
Motorists are advised to take alternate routes around the slide site. Eastbound traffic on Highway 3 is being diverted via Highway 5A north of Princeton, the Okanagan Connector from Merritt to West Kelowna, and then south on Highway 97 through Penticton.
Corp. Mike Gallagher of the Keremeos RCMP said no significant traffic delays have occurred. Highways officials are directing motorists at the key intersections along the route.
Updated information is available through the Drive B.C. website at www.drivebc.com.


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