Rock Slide Photos, Feb. 10, 2020
Three people were taken to the hospital after a boulder struck a car on Monongahela Boulevard and a PRT car on the tracks. Morgantown Fire Chief Mark Caravasos said the boulder fell and smashed the car, and one of the bits of it went through a fence onto the PRT track, where it hit a PRT vehicle.
Maceon Wheeler sat at the front of the PRT, facing away from Monongahela Boulevard, when the boulder hit.
Steve Kite, a WVU geology professor, said he used to try to inventory rocks of all sizes that fell onto Monongahela Boulevard.
“I gave up; it was so common,” he said. “Rocks coming down there of more modest size are so common that it just doesn’t make the news.”
On Monday, one did make the news. A falling boulder collided with a car and a PRT vehicle. Three people were injured, according to law enforcement reports.
Susan Cramer, 65, of Morgantown was the driver injured by the boulder. While the city had initially believed that all injuries resulting from Monday’s rock slide were minor, Cramer had a few broken bones and a collapsed lung that required surgery, said Morgantown spokesperson Michaela Martin.
Two students were injured on the PRT. The injured students include Maceon Wheeler, an engineering student, and Chloe Bolin, an animal and nutritional sciences student.
The WVU Sigma Alpha Sorority is raising money for Bolin, one of its members, according to a post on its Facebook page. According to a post on the WVU Western Equestrian Team Facebook page, Bolin was a member of the team.
“Her tailbone was broken all the way through and so the doctors inserted a large screw,” the Facebook post said. “She has two screws, one on each side of her pelvis and a bar placed in front of her pelvis that will be there until it heals.”
Wheeler said he received pelvis fractures from the collision.
Rock slides on Monongahela Boulevard have been a problem for decades. A notable incident was mentioned in an issue of the Daily Athenaeum from Jan. 25, 1983.
A picture of the boulder was published on the front page with the following caption: “Rock-N-Roll? – The sudden change in temperature early Friday morning caused a landslide on [Monongahela] Boulevard. The cascade of rocks, dirt and gravel brought with it this huge boulder, which temporarily closed portions of the road. The [Division] of Highways crew plans to blast the boulder to remove it from the road.”
Rock slides on Mon Boulevard have been a problem for decades. Here's a notable incident that was mentioned in an issue of the Daily Athenaeum from Jan. 25, 1983. pic.twitter.com/I74WAEwBAp— Douglas Soule (@DouglasSoule) February 11, 2020
Kite said the boulder that fell on Monday is only a third or half the size of another one that fell in 1994. A more recent and more minor rock slide occurred in April 2018, reported The Dominion Post.
Kite said landslides used to occur more commonly in March.
“In recent years, it’s been more likely in January or February,” he said. “It’s been wetter in the winter.”
“Water on a hillside adds weight to the hillside, and also the pore pressure of the water tends to push the particles apart,” he said.
Monongahela Boulevard’s construction led the neighboring hillside to be steepened, Kite said.
“I don’t know whether it was the initial cut or when they widened [the boulevard] in the ‘60s that they really took the slope back very steeply,” he said. “This is ultimately the problem with Mon Boulevard. They took it back so steeply that it just created an instability that has never come to an equilibrium.”
Kite said another factor for landslide problems in the area is how the Monongahela River has changed over time.
“The river used to be at the level of Woodburn; it’s now 150 feet lower in probably less than a million years,” he said. “So the whole landscape is cut down. Everything is steepened.”
In addition, Kite pointed to the shale present in the hillside above the boulevard. Over time, Kite said the shale would retreat piece by piece due to rainfall and freezing-thawing events.
“That starts everything off, and then human beings come in,” he said.
Kite said mitigating the issue would be “extremely expensive.”
Martin said the boulder that fell onto Monongahela Boulevard and onto the PRT tracks on Monday came from WVU property, but the hillside is a part of the West Virginia Division of Highways Right-of-Way.
Martin said figuring out stability of the hillside will take a cooperative agreement between WVU and DOH.
DOH sent the following statement to the Daily Athenaeum on Tuesday:
Over the last week, West Virginia has experienced a lot of rainfall that has saturated its hillsides. Across the State, severe flooding, mudslides and rockslides have been reported.
Regarding the incident along Monongahela Boulevard (Route 7), the West Virginia Division of Highways has cleaned up the debris and is currently working on reducing the size of the boulder for disposal. DOH has also patched the areas damaged by the rock fall.
The hillside where the rock fell is owned by West Virginia University. DOH will be meeting with them soon to discuss the incident and assist in possible solutions.
On Tuesday afternoon, a Morgantown news release said it is believed the PRT struck a rock lying on the track as a result of Monday’s rock slide.
Rock debris traveled across Monongahela Boulevard, damaging a protective fence and landing on the tracks, according to the release. This damaged the PRT and injured two of the nine people in it.
This contrasts with earlier information from WVU that said there were only seven people in the PRT and that the rock struck the PRT. The Daily Athenaeum has not received a response to a question emailed to WVU spokespeople on Tuesday about whether the PRT was struck by the boulder or if it ran into the boulder.