Hole in California freeway: It’s not the pit of Hell, but it’s close

Interstate 10 bridge collapse

California Highway Patrol vehicles block a section of Interstate 10 between Coachella, Calif., and the Arizona border, where Sunday’s flash floods washed out a bridge over a desert wash.

(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

It isn’t the pit of hell. But it’s a pit near Hell.

The town of Hell. Population: Basically no one.

Heavy rainfall caused a hole to open up Sunday afternoon, taking out a bridge and closing Interstate 10.

The closest large population to the collapse is in Blythe, about 50 miles away. But it’s only about nine miles east of Hell, a virtually nonexistent town best known for its name. A flash flood roared through a normally arid dry wash under the bridge, washing it away and swallowing a pickup truck.

The man in the truck was stranded in the pit for 45 minutes while waters roiled below, said California Highway Patrol spokesman Mike Radford as he stood in the once again dry wash Monday morning.

Luckily, the driver, Bryon Castor, was rescued with no major injuries.

Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit said the closest structure to the collapse is an abandoned gas station used to shoot post-apocalyptic films.

The pit-sinkhole-bridge collapse was created when a creek in Desert Center between Coachella, Calif., and Arizona’s border was overwhelmed by an unusual July storm. The road buckled and collapsed, cutting off one of the state’s vital truck shipping corridors for weeks if not months.

On Monday, Caltrans began inspecting other bridges in the area and found a second one susceptible to collapsing.

The freeway closure is likely to create a traffic hell for motorists.

So it seemed rather appropriate that this would happen near a place called Hell.

It’s easy to miss Hell, Calif. There are no “Welcome to Hell” signs, no shops selling “I Visited Hell and All I Got was this Lousy T-Shirt” souvenirs, no obvious buildings amid the sprawling desert landscape to suggest its existence.

“There’s nothing there,” said Patty Evans, 29, a store clerk at McGoo’s Mini Mart in Desert Center. “It used to be a town but it’s been abandoned.”

Basically, Hell is forsaken.

It’s some 13 miles from Eagle Mountain Road, not far from where the bridge came down.

Since the bridge collapsed, Evans said, she hasn’t seen many customers.

But Evans said authorities have reopened nearby California 177 and she hopes traffic will pick up.

In 1955, after a particularly hot spell in Southern California, Los Angeles Times columnist Art Ryon noted that L.A. hit temperatures of 110, while the town of Hell saw temperatures of 105.

“It was hotter than Hell in Los Angeles,” he wrote 60 years ago.

It wasn’t that hot on Monday. But it was very muggy in the vicinity of Hell, Evans said.

“It’s yucky.”

For more breaking news, follow @japanzar and @latvives on Twitter.

Panzar reported from Hell and Vives from Los Angeles.