Downed bridge splits Big Sur, closes part of coast highway

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BIG SUR, Calif. (AP) — A downed bridge along the California coast has split the Big Sur area in two, stranding residents without access to grocery stores and public services and closing part of scenic Highway 1 for as long as a year.

About 450 residents on one side of the span were cut off when the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge crumbled beyond repair. Backpackers and helicopters are transporting food to the residential area.

The community known for its luxury spa treatments, posh hotels and scenic retreats is also without law enforcement, public services and tourists, The Mercury News in San Jose said ( ).

"We're severed in half . with two of the most amazing cul-de-sacs in the world," Big Sur native Kirk Gafill told the newspaper.

A steep and narrow half-mile footpath is open to residents only for 15 minutes at a time, three times a day, to cross the divide.

The fire station, post office and Big Sur's famous restaurants sit on the south side of the bridge while schools, medical care, grocery stores, hardware stores, livestock supplies and almost all the community's homes are to the north.

Residents are worrying about what comes next for the tourism-dependent community.

Caltrans has said the bridge is beyond repair and will need to be removed and replaced, but has yet to give a timeline or details. Officials hope to make a portion of the roadway passable later this month for locals only.

The bridge was severely damaged by torrential rainstorms this winter, and landslides to the south of it have made the road impassable.

"How long will the new bridge take? Is there room for a bypass, for temporary transit, until it's done?" Gafill asked.

Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade Capt. Jon Knight said he is living to the south while his wife and daughter have moved north for her work.

"Before, with other natural disasters, we were isolated as all one, together," said Knight. "The problem with this is that it's divided the community right in half."

Doris Jolicoeur of Deetjen's Big Sur Inn said workers there rationed fish and salads and kept propane fuel to keep refrigerators and freezers running. At Nepenthe restaurant, workers are digging into a supply of onions, potatoes, pasta, rice and "a lot of hot sauce, to create flavor."

At homes on the south side, supplies have begun to run low. To help feed their three young children, Molly and Scott Moffat backpacked 120 pounds of Costco-bought food to their isolated ridgetop home. The SPCA for Monterey County air delivered about 400 pounds of feed for the Moffats' animals.

"The kids saw the helicopter and were so excited, saying 'It's an angel!'" said Molly Moffat.

Butch Kronlund said he went door-to-door asking residents for shopping lists.

"I knocked on every door," said Kronlund, president of the Coast Property Owners Association. "Most people were so stoked and happy that we cared."

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