BLUEFIELD, W.Va. — The Virginia Department of Transportation and first responders did a drill about a month ago involving the East River Mountain Tunnel near Bluefield. They had no idea the training would pay off so quickly.
A large truck caught on fire inside the tunnel Friday afternoon and tunnel workers and emergency personnel responded in the same way they did in that recent drill.
“This is very similar to the exercise that we worked through,” VDOT spokesperson Michelle Earl said. “That was a great effort, ensuring our communication was good and trying to see ways we could make it better. That being fresh on everyone’s minds was helpful.”
Earl said tunnel workers monitoring security cameras noticed the truck was having problems before the fire began. She said they quickly responded helping evacuate motorists.
Repair crews took about 24 hours to make the initial repairs to the northbound I-77 tunnel at the West Virginia-Virginia state line. Earl said the tunnel remains open but more work needs to be done.
“More removal of soot from the tunnel on both sides. More electrical repairs and doing another assessment to make sure the tunnel is okay,” she said.