U.S. 89 closed after pavement buckles

BITTERSPRINGS, Ariz., February 21, 2013

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W hen Tylo and Biaonca Slim got up Wednesday morning they saw red and blue lights flashing "on the hill."

"We thought it was a regular accident," said Biaonca, who lives just below Antelope Pass, or what locals call "The Big Cut," in a telephone interview Wednesday morning on her way to Tuba City.

It was something much more.

According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, U.S. Highway 89 is closed due to a 150-foot section of pavement buckling about 25 miles south of Page. "The cause is not related to weather and may be a geological event," an ADOT press release read.

However, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geologic Survey's National Earthquake Information Center said the center did not track any earthquakes in the area Wednesday morning.

"I can't say for sure there wasn't an earthquake," said Don Blakeman, "but I'm a little skeptical."

Blakeman said an earthquake strong enough to do the kind of damage exhibited on Highway 89 "would have been felt in a fairly extensive area," and the Times did not receive any reports of residents experiencing a quake.

Whatever the cause, the road closure will severely inconvenience residents in the remote area, where U.S. 89 is about the only pavement.

ADOT officials say the detour route will add about 49 miles using U.S. 160, Indian Route 20 between Gap and LeChee, or State Highway 98. There is no official statement as to how long the road will be closed.

Carlena Ruiz, a longtime resident who lives near The Big Cut, says the incident is "scary." Because Highway 89A is her only way into Page, she says she's going to have to rent a room, costing her money, to go to work and school.

As of 10 a.m. Wednesday Coconino County District 5 Supervisor Lena Fowler said the Western Agency elected officials probably will declare a state of emergency.

"We've got people going up there to see how we can improve the road, and there might be an alternative route," she said.

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