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I-40 Closed in Both Directions; Another Rock...

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HARMONS DEN, N.C. (AP) — Two rock slides closedInterstate 40 atthe Tennessee state line Tuesday, and the highway was expected tobe closed through the holiday weekend.

Five people were injured.

Police rerouted traffic hundreds of miles out of the way on themajor artery between North Carolina and Tennessee. Motorists wereadvised to expect long delays during the busy July 4th weekendbecause the highway would be closed for several days.

Two people were injured when their vehicle ran into a boulderinthe westbound lanes of the highway. Three other sustained injurieswhen another huge rock hit the top of their van in I-40's eastboundlane, the state Highway Patrol said.

The injured were in stable condition at Haywood CommunityHospital.

Hours after the major slides, smaller rocks continued tocascadedown the mountainside next to the interstate.

The slide occurred at 3:45 a.m. in Great Smoky MountainsNational Park, where I-40 winds through the Pigeon River gorge. Itleft some boulders the size of buses in the roadway, and highwaycrews began blasting them so they could be removed.

Margaret Weise of Auburn Hills, Mich., was meeting a friend shemet on the Internet with whom she was going kayaking on theNantahala River. She was a lucky one - after about a 40-minutewait, she got through one lane before the highway was closed togeneral traffic.

A portion of both lanes of I-40 at the one mile marker inHaywood County will be blocked for at least two days whileDepartment of Transportation crews clean up debris.

Motorists headed west to Tennessee must take Interstate 77 intoVirginia and travel Interstate 81 back to Tennessee, said the NorthCarolina Highway Patrol. An alternate route is Interstate 85 southto Atlanta and I-75 to Chattanooga, Tenn., the patrol said.

``Tennessee-bound traffic must take one of these routes.Motorists who insist on continuing west on I-40 will experiencelengthy delays and may end up stranded or backtracking,'' saidpatrol spokeswoman Renee Hoffman.

Tennessee authorities are rerouting eastbound traffic intoNorthCarolina, she said.

Motorists already in the Asheville area could use U.S. 23 intoTennessee, DOT said. Restrictions on trucks using the narrow,twisting mountain road were lifted until further notice.

``We are doing some drilling and we will be doing some blastingto remove some of the material,'' said DOT resident engineer RickStyles.

Rain may have contributed to the slide, Styles said.

Westbound trucks were backed up for 1-1/2 miles immediatelyafterthe slide, but concrete barriers between lanes were removed so theycould turn around and head east.

The area is prone to falling rock. The last major slideoccurredin the mid-1980s when slides closed two tunnels for several weekson I-40 near the Tennessee border, DOT said.

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