Roads start to reopen after mudslides

(Utah Department of Transportation via Twitter) Utah Department of Transportation work on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019 to clear debris from a mudslide in Little Cottonwood Canyon east of Salt Lake City. The mudslide covered the right on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, and stranded several drivers and passengers in cars.

Residents of Utah County’s Loafer Canyon were allowed to return to their homes after an evacuation order Thursday prompted by heavy rains that swept through the Wasatch Front, closing several canyon roads.

Utah County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Spencer Cannon said the road through Loafer Canyon remains closed to nonresidents, and property owners were asked to park in driveways and off the road to allow room for ongoing maintenance.

“They were working on it last night to make it safely passable,” Cannon said.

Cannon said Payson Canyon is open after a mudslide Thursday evening near a hiking destination called The Grotto prompted officials to close the canyon. He added there is still debris in the road, and urged drivers to be careful.

According to the Utah Department of Transportation website Friday morning, a mudslide Thursday evening also closed U.S. 6 in Spanish Fork Canyon in both directions. It reopened Friday.

In Salt Lake County, a line of about two dozen vehicles, including Utah Transit Authority ride-sharing vans, were queued in a parking lot at 9:45 a.m. at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, waiting for an escort up the road. Most of those waiting appeared to be employees at Snowbird and Alta — the two resorts in the canyon — though a few people in hiking gear or with suitcases waited, too.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Motorists are turned away at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, due to rockslides from last nights rainstorm. Friday, Aug. 9, 2019.

A Snowbird employee was warning those who don’t work in Little Cottonwood Canyon that they could be stranded there overnight.

Scott Sunday had driven to Utah from Twain Harte, Calif., for a retreat at Alta. The retreat was supposed to start 9 a.m. Friday.

By 10 a.m., Sunday was still in the park-and-ride lot at the mouth of the canyon. He decided to leave his car at the mouth and take a shuttle up the canyon in hopes of arriving at the retreat sooner.

“I was a little discouraged,” Sunday said, “when I was hearing we might not make it, but it’s all good.”

Officials with the town of Alta posted on social media Friday that motorists will be allowed to drive up the canyon during a 30-minute window from 5 to 5:30 p.m. A 30-minute window for downhill traffic will follow from 5:30 to 6 p.m., after which the road will be shut down overnight.

It will reopen to uphill and downhill traffic Saturday between 6 and 6:30 a.m.

On Thursday, a rock and mudslide in Little Cottonwood Canyon had trapped vehicles and motorists, but the Unified Police Department reported later that night that all of the individuals impacted had been safely evacuated to the Snowbird and Alta resorts.

Unified Police Detective Ken Hansen said Friday that an exposed gas pipe in the canyon was adding to the delays for the road to reopen. He said the department is also monitoring other weather-related incidents and would be providing updates throughout the day.

“There was a slide in Big Cottonwood Canyon,” Hansen said, “but it didn’t impact the road.”

Tribune reporters Nate Carlisle and Paighten Harkins contributed to this report.