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Mudslides, Worsened By Last Year's Wildfires, Shut Down A Vital Colorado Highway

Mud and debris on Sunday on U.S. Highway 6 west of Silver Plume, Colo.
Mud and debris on Sunday on U.S. Highway 6 west of Silver Plume, Colo.

As wildfires continue to ravage parts of the Western U.S., damage from last year's fires is now taking its toll on a vital highway in Colorado.

Colorado Public Radio's Nathaniel Minor reported that Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon could be closed for days or even weeks after last week's mudslides.

The slides dislodged rocks, trapped people in their cars overnight and diverted the flow of the Colorado River so that parts of the road are now underwater.

The highway is suspended over the Colorado River in a narrow canyon with steep 1,300-foot high walls, making it especially vulnerable to flash floods and mudslides.

The average monthly rainfall for the area in July is 2.4 inches. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said it's seen nearly twice that in the last five days.

And because last year's wildfires burned up the vegetation that helps soak up water, these heavy rains resulted in some 10 feet of mud blanketing the highway on Thursday.

Polis said at a Monday press conference that in the best-case scenario, one lane in each direction could open in a few days, though the highway is more likely to be closed for weeks — at significant cost to local economies and families.

"Tens of thousands of cars use the road every day, and in these mountains, the shortest detour over good roads adds at least 2 1/2 hours," Minor reported.

This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition Live Blog.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.