By Tim Ghianni
NASHVILLE, Tenn (Reuters) - A rockslide has forced Tennessee to close a one-mile section of westbound Interstate 40 near the border with North Carolina for at least two weeks, forcing drivers to take a 53-mile detour, transportation officials said on Tuesday.
The early morning slide included a rock 40-feet long, 40-feet high and 15-feet thick that weighed about 1,500 tons, said Mark Nagi, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
The one-mile stretch will remain shut until debris can be removed and inspectors can make sure the rock walls are stable.
Meanwhile, westbound drivers will be directed along a 53-mile detour from near Asheville, North Carolina, into Tennessee. A rockslide in the same area in 2009 forced eastbound lanes to be shut for six months.
"The main thing is that we are not going to let that road get back open until we know it is safe and secure," Nagi said.
The unusually warm weather this winter in the area was thought to have increased the risk of rockslides, he said.
"There's a good chance that a contributing factor is the change in the weather pattern: Freezing and thawing and freezing and thawing," Nagi said. "That puts more strain on the rocks."
Few rocks fell on the roadway itself and the debris that did would not have affected traffic greatly, Nagi said.
Maintenance crews were at the site shortly after midnight.
(Editing by David Bailey and Paul Thomasch)