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Closures along iconic California highway hit tourism

LOS ANGELES, March 21, 2017 (BSS/AFP) A series of storms that pounded California this winter have forced the shutdown of the state's iconic coastal highway in several areas, spelling economic disaster for the region that relies heavily on tourism.

The closures along Highway 1, one of America's most picturesque roads, came after heavy downpours led to a number of mudslides and the collapse of a key bridge in February that cut off the town of Big Sur from the rest of California. Officials said the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, which buckled from the storms and is being demolished, will not be replaced for at least six months.

"Since February we went from off season to no season," Stan Russell, executive director of the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce, told AFP.

He said businesses such as the world-famous Nepenthe restaurant and a number of upmarket retreats had been forced to temporarily shut down as they were no longer accessible.

"Until last week, we had 1,000 people unemployed in a community of 1,500 or so," Russell said.

He added that some establishments in Big Sur such as the luxury Post Ranch Inn, where rooms average $1,200 a night, were looking at the possibility of shuttling guests by helicopter as the tourist season gets fully underway.

"The losses for the town are certainly in the millions," he said.

"The Post Ranch Inn alone does over a million a month." Meanwhile about 450 remaining residents on one side of Big Sur, which has been split in two, have been forced to rely on air drops and backpackers for supplies.