POLK COUNTY, Tenn. -- Swaying and bucking 15 stories up on a crane, Roger Haun stands on a platform, pounding a mechanical hammer into the rocky face of Little Frog Mountain.
Every few minutes, boulders the size of chairs rumble down the slope, crashing to a stop where U.S. Highway 64 used to be.
Contractors have been working 24 hours a day, seven days a week since March 8, trying to clear up the last of the rock slide that thundered onto the highway on Nov. 10. At the same time, they're also repairing the road and trying to make sure the mountain doesn't come tumbling down again.
But they're going to work a little longer than expected.
For the second time, the finish date of the cleanup and road reopening has been backed up. It was supposed to reopen March 31, but on Friday, Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner Gerald Nicely set the new date at April 16.
A few days after the first rock slide, TDOT officials said the cleanup would be done in about eight weeks, or sometime in January.
Since November, bad weather -- including about 25 inches of rain -- has caused contractors to miss 17 days of work, Mr. Nicely said.
"Much has been accomplished but much remains to be done," he said Friday. "We very much wish we could tell you today we could make the March 31 deadline. But we do think the April 16 date -- once again, if the weather cooperates -- is a good date.
"We fully realize this has been a great economic hardship for the people of Polk County," he said Friday. "But we will assure you, everyone is working diligently to get this done. First and foremost is the safety of both the workers and the general public."
The rain has caused at least a half dozen other smaller rock slides along U.S. 64, including one on Jan. 19. While the Nov. 10 slide remains the largest and the biggest job, work on some of the other sites also in ongoing.
The remainder of work is "scaling and trimming" the rock face of Little Frog, a job expected to be finished in three days, said Steve Hall, assistant TDOT chief engineer.
Fixing the rock face is a safety issue, Department of Transportation regional construction manager Ken Flynn said Thursday.
"We don't want to leave anything up there that is unstable," he said.
Along with Mr. Haun and his hammer, which is whittling loose and dangerous pieces of rock off the mountainside, another crew is installing 15- to 40-foot rock bolts -- huge metal bolts drilled into the rock to hold it in place.
Mr. Flynn said workers also are trying to cut back the mountain in slide areas to provide a space that, if rocks do fall, they won't be in the roadway. A debris fence also is likely to be installed at some slide areas, he said.
The delay to April 16 does not add to the cost of the project, according to TDOT Chief Engineer Paul Degges. The cost estimate of $2.3 million includes federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds, he said.
"It's my understanding we are well within our cost," he said.
Mr. Flynn said he has developed a new appreciation for the Ocoee Gorge while working on the rock slide over the past four months.
By the numbers
* 10,000 cubic yards of debris removed as of March 15
* 2,000-3,000 cubic yards remaining to be moved
* 3,600 linear feet of rock bolts installed
* 7,400 linear feet of rock bolts yet to be installed
* 2,842 pounds of explosives used
* 1,895 holes drilled for blasting
Source: Tennessee Department of Transportation
"You go home at night and the road is clear, and you come back the next morning and the road is full of rock again. It's pretty scary," he said.
"Now I've started looking at the sides of the road, and instead of saying, 'Oh, that's a pretty rock,' now I look at it and say, 'Ooh, what's the slide potential there?'"
Pete Blackwell, a longtime resident of the gorge area and boater on Ocoee Lake, opened a restaurant at the marina on March 5. The restaurant and marina still are accessible, but the road closure has delayed the regular tourist season.
"Normally this time of the year, we should have 1,000 people through here on a weekend," Mr. Blackwell said. "Last weekend, we had 600. We're ready for the road to open."
He said the community knows the delay is not highway workers' fault.
"They're hauling rock as fast as they can," Mr. Blackwell said. "And I'd rather know the road is safe."