SCOTTS VALLEY, Calif. --Without warning, an ABC7 News photographer caught just a glimpse of the landslide as he was driving northbound on Highway 17.
In a split second, the news van was crushed by rocks, dirt and vegetation as seen in this video shot by a CHP officer.
"Miracles happen every day. Fortunately, the slide didn't come down and completely cover the van," explained CHP Officer Jeff Lutz.
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The landslide covered both of the northbound lanes just past Vine Hill Road just as the morning commute was about to start.
The Santa Cruz Mountains got pounded by Sunday's Level 4 Storm on the ABC7 news storm impact scale. The heavy rainfall saturated the soil and made it unstable.
The crews kept a watchful eye for more potential slides as they worked on clearing the highway.
Caltrans was able to reconfigure the two southbound lanes to give traffic a single lane bypass around the roadblock.
The big challenge was the amount of rocks and other debris that had to be removed.
"It's probably looking at around 700 cubic yards, which is a lot, because there's all kind of dynamics as far as power poles, lines, boulders and rocks, so it's a variety. So Caltrans is working with PG&E and AT&T to do their best to clean this up," said Lutz.
Light rain during the course of the day didn't help as it created both urgency and risk as crews tried to work quickly but safely, never sure if the unstable hillsides might give way again.
The highway patrol warns drivers that what happened to the ABC7 News van could happen to anyone, given the winding nature of highway 17 with limited ability to see hundreds of feet ahead when danger strikes.
For a while, the CHP re-routed commute traffic heading from Santa Cruz to San Jose onto a side road. Some of those commuters said it took them an hour just to drive the bypass. At about 10 a.m., Caltrans was able to cone-off the two southbound lanes of 17, allowing northbound traffic to use one of those lanes.
The crews have a big job ahead of them, using a frontloader to clear the slide and fill a nearby dump truck, but it's a slow process.
The CHP expects traffic to be impacted through the night.
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