ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins County man who survived a mudslide Thursday that destroyed a section of highway on Clinch Mountain was recovering Friday at Holston Valley Medical Center, where he was listed in stable condition.
Johnny Mabe, 48, of Eidson, was driving on Route 70-N north of Rogersville near the Cave Springs Road intersection shortly before 1 a.m. Thursday when he came upon the 200-foot section of roadway that had collapsed, and his vehicle rolled down the mountain.
A second motorist, Steven Lawson, 62, of Jonesborough, was killed after driving off the collapsed highway.
Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency Director Gary Murrell said Mabe “exited his vehicle after it came off the mountain, and we found him down on the next section of roadway below the slide up against a guardrail.
“That area of Route 70-N snakes up the mountain. It was the middle section of highway that washed out, and the injured victim was able to climb down to that bottom section of highway.”
On Friday, the Times News spoke briefly with Mabe, who said he wasn’t yet ready to recount the events of his accident.
“It’s still kind of blurry,” he said. “It’s been pretty rough.”
The Tennessee Highway Patrol stated that Lawson was driving a 1997 Chevy pickup southbound on Route 70-N around 1:55 a.m. Thursday when his truck rolled down the embankment at the slide.
Lawson’s body was recovered around 11:45 a.m. Thursday following a lengthy rescue/recovery effort involving multiple agencies form across the region.
The latest on Route 70-N closure
Tennessee Department of Transportation spokesman Marki Nagi said Friday that the highway remains closed indefinitely, and repairs on the missing section of roadway will take several weeks.
That means the two main roads linking Rogersville and Sneedville are damaged. Due to a separate slide, Route 66-N is down to one lane near New Life Road.
TDOT Commissioner Clay Bright, along with other TDOT staff and state and local officials, toured the Route 70-N slide Friday.
“We first want to express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the man who lost his life early Thursday morning,” Bright said. “TDOT staff is working around the clock to develop a set of design plans to address this large slide. We plan to have an emergency contract in place by the end of next week and will make every effort to reopen Highway 70 North as quickly as we can safely do so.”
Route 70-N will be closed between Route 94 (Pressmens Home Road) and Clinch Valley Road, and a detour will be in place until the highway reopens.
From Rogersville, take 11-W west to Mooresburg and turn north on Route 31 in Sneedville, then turn east on Route 33 to the Route 70-N intersection at Kyles Ford.
From Kyles Ford, take Route 33 west to Sneedville, then Route 31 south to Mooresburg to the intersection of 11-W, and then east to Rogersville.
“With additional rain forecast over the next few days, there is a possibility of additional soil movement and a potential for the slide to grow in size,” Nagi said. “The overall instability of the area will prevent TDOT from maintaining a lane of travel until repairs can be completed. A completion date for the repairs will be available once an emergency contract has been awarded.”
Hawkins County Rescue Squad coverage
Due to the recent landslides, the HCRS has plans in place in the event its services are needed on the north side of Clinch Mountain.
HCRS already has a truck stationed at the Clinch Valley Volunteer Fire Department on Clinch Valley Road.
While the roads are being repaired, the HCRS will also utilize Hancock County Rescue Squad for assistance if needed.
Slides and rockfalls in Tennessee
Because of the geological and soil conditions, as well as the general terrain, slides and rockfalls are common in Middle and East Tennessee.
Typical triggers for such events are extended periods of wet weather and/or the freezing and thawing of water, and they typically occur in winter and early spring.
Potential slides and rockfalls are nearly impossible to predict with any accuracy.
TDOT budgets $3 million annually to address rockfall and slide issues, and it often seeks federal disaster assistance to help cover the cost of major incidents.
Nine slides have impacted state highways in parts of East Tennessee since Feb. 4, including one that closed a section of Route 66-N near the Hancock County line for about a week.