Residents, dog walkers, early morning joggers and just about everyone who was up and about at 5 a.m. this morning gathered to watch as a sizable engineering team closed off all northbound traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway and safely removed an unstable section of the Santa Monica Bluffs.

These bluffs separate Palisades Park from the essential automotive artery that runs along the length of the west coast of the United States and any kind of slippage could’ve been potentially disastrous. Only a few months ago in March, the unusually wet winter caused a minor mudslide that shut down the California Incline and Caltrans estimates that traffic volumes along the PCH can reach 58,000 vehicles per day.

According to Tom Clemo, Deputy Chief Santa Monica Fire Department, it only took a few full scoops with a giant hydraulic excavator “grab” to clear the breakaway bluff.

“It took them, I think, about five loads, and they had the large piece down on the ground and put it into one full dump truck. It was much easier and quicker than they thought,” Clemo said, adding, “They’re an extremely professional company and they know what they’re doing.”

“Based on the history of the bluffs, over time, there’s erosion. And it’s something that I know our public works people keep a very close eye on,” Clemo said. “Should this occur again, then they’ll come back and take care of it, but I don’t think there’s anything immediate. It certainly doesn’t appear that way.”

The area of concern was a “column” of soil that had broken away from the main bluff, more than likely due to this year’s heavy rains. While the area at risk is relatively small compared to the total road closure zone, traffic was nonetheless diverted off the freeway before the McClure Tunnel and won’t be allowed back onto the road until the area is deemed to be completely clear.

The City’s engineering department said they had already engaged an outside expert to analyze the stability of the local bluffs following the very wet winter. However, a large crack appeared in part of the bluff last week and the decision was made to remove the now dangerous section before it could fall onto traffic or pedestrians below.

A convoy of cranes, trucks, support vehicles and other excavation equipment lined the northbound lanes while the southbound remained unaffected. All roads have now reopened.

Scott fell in love with Santa Monica when he was much younger and now, after living and working in five different countries, he has returned. He's written for the likes of the FT, NBC, the BBC and CNN.