In this photo provided by the Colorado Department of Transportation, equipment works to clear mud and debris from a mudslide on Interstate-70 through Glenwood Canyon, Colo., on Friday, July 30, 2021. Authorities say more than 100 people had to spend the night on the highway, including nearly 30 who took refuge inside a highway tunnel along I-70 in Glenwood Canyon after rain over an area burned by a wildfire triggered the mudslides in Western Colorado.

(Colorado Department of Transportation via AP)

  • Two cars were destroyed.
  • Neraly 30 people spent the night in a highway tunnel.
  • The road is expected to remain shut down through the weekend.

More than 100 people were rescued Friday after being stranded overnight when mudslides shut down a portion of Interstate 70 in Colorado.

There were no reports of injuries but two motorists walked to safety after their cars were destroyed by debris, the Denver Post reported.

“I’m knocking on wood that no one was injured,” Mike Goolsby, northwest region director for the Colorado Department of Transportation, told the newspaper.

Several debris piles were blocking portions of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon after rain on Thursday caused rocks and mud to wash through the Grizzly Creek Fire burn scar area. Mud, rocks and trees were reported to be 10 to 12 feet deep in some places.

Twenty-nine motorists sheltered overnight in the tunnel at Hanging Lake, near the town of Glenwood Springs about 150 miles west of Denver, when the road was closed due to the slides. Another 79 people were stuck along the highway, CDOT said in a news release.

All 108 were ferried to safety Friday, either by first responders or CDOT.

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Personnel from the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, as well as Glenwood Canyon Fire, CDOT and a bus, first set out to reach those in the tunnel at about 10 p.m. Thursday. They arrived at the scene 8.5 hours later.

“They had to dig through two different debris piles,” sheriff’s spokesman Walt Stowe told in a phone interview Friday.

“They got the people out of the tunnel.”

Some drove their own cars out and others boarded the bus. Everyone was safely ferried to a temporary shelter at the Glenwood Recreation Center.

The tunnel at Hanging Lake is home to a fire station that’s manned 24 hours a day, Stowe said.

“People were fairly comfortable, as much as you can be in a tunnel,” he said.

CDOT, meanwhile, evacuated the rest of the drivers and passengers.

It wasn’t clear if those people were trapped in debris flow, but CDOT spokesman Matt Inzeo told Colorado Public Radio on Friday that no one was reported missing or injured.

Some areas of debris flow could be seen on CDOT traffic cameras Friday afternoon, but there did not appear to be any cars or people close to them.

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The road was initially closed at about 4:30 p.m. Thursday due to the threat of flooding from heavy rainfall, but was reopened and then closed again around 9 p.m., CPR reported. It remained closed Saturday in both directions from mile marker 87 to mile marker 133, and was expected to remain so at least through the weekend. Detours were in place.

More than 3 inches of rain have fallen in the area in the past three days, and more rain is in the forecast.

Mudslides in the burn scar area have closed I-70 in Glenwood Canyon several other times this summer.

The Grizzly Creek Fire started last year on Aug. 10 and burned through about 51 square miles of land in the Glenwood Springs area. The blaze shut down I-70 for two weeks.

Hillsides that have been burned by wildfires are especially susceptible to mudslides. Besides destroying vegetation that would normally hold soil and debris in place, wildfires exacerbate mudslide risk by changing characteristics of the soil itself. It becomes less likely to absorb water, which creates conditions ripe for flash flooding and debris flow, Jason Kean, a debris flow expert with the U.S. Geological Survey, told in an interview earlier this year.

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